By Staff Sgt. Christopher McCulloughMarch 12, 2014
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - After 12 years of war, the U.S. Army is drawing down its forces, which has generated a lot of hearsay. Indeed, there have been changes to re-enlistment, but not nearly as many as you might think.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Juan Carlos Padilla, the brigade career counselor for 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, helped shed some light on retention.
Padilla, a San Antonio native, said that the eligibility criteria for re-enlistment has not changed; that what has changed is the window of time a soldier has to re-enlist.
"The window for re-enlistment is the absolute time when you can request discharge for re-enlistment of a new term anywhere from two to six years, depending on what you're qualified for," Padilla said.
That window, which is set by the Headquarters, Department of the Army at the beginning of the fiscal year, currently allows soldiers with an End of Time in Service date, or ETS, between now and Sept. 30, 2015, to re-enlist as long as they are not within 90 days of their ETS date. By re-enlisting further out from their ETS, soldiers open themselves up to more options and avoid making rushed decisions.
If a soldier chooses to wait until they are inside their final year of service, they may find themselves out of luck.
"Right now, if you've got a fiscal year '14 ETS date, you have 90 days left to re-enlist, maybe 120 days," explained Padilla. "That's only because once you enter your 90-day ETS window, you're ineligible to re-enlist without a waiver from HQDA."
Such waivers are hardly new, but they are being required now because the Army is a "controlled population" whose numbers are determined by congress, Padilla said. That is why career counselors and commanders across the Army scrutinize each soldier who requests re-enlistment, not solely for whether or not they legally eligible, but to determine if the soldier is someone who the Army wants to retain.
"A fully-qualified soldier is a quality soldier ... in the eyes of the commander using the Total Soldier Concept," Padilla said. "Basically, the requirements for re-enlistment are passing the PT test, passing the height and weight, not having any negative or derogatory NCOERs or any ... suspension of favorable action flags, and having the right rank to go with it. That would make you a fully qualified soldier."
Soldiers should also be aware that re-enlistment requires approval by a company-level commander.
U.S. Army Capt. Jesse Boulton, the commander for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3-2 SBCT, said that he looks at a few factors before allowing his soldiers to re-enlist. He begins by speaking with a soldier's supervisor to get a snapshot of the soldier's performance. He also looks at the soldier's disciplinary history, physical fitness level, and ensures that the soldier doesn't have any pending punitive actions against them.
Boulton, a native of San Jose, Calif., said driving under the influence charges or drug use are automatic red flags that would cause him to recommend denial of re-enlistment. Final authority for re-enlistment denial lies with a brigade-level commander.
So what is a soldier to do if they find that they are fully qualified and approved by their commander but don't meet rank requirements for their current job? Padilla said a soldier might need to consider reclassifying; that is to say, change their job.
"There are plenty of (critically short jobs) out there," Padilla explained. "It's just a matter of a soldier gearing up and taking the challenge of filling one of these critical positions."
If you believe that you are eligible and want to re-enlist but are unsure of your options, Padilla said there are five re-enlistment options available - guaranteed time, current station stabilization, Army training re-enlistment option, overseas re-enlistment option, and stateside station of choice - though soldiers need to see their local career counselor to learn which options they qualify for.
But don't wait too long to do this.
"If you know you ETS within a year, you need to contact a career counselor immediately," Padilla said. "(Soldiers) can contact their career counselor as soon as they get to the unit ... so that they're always able to get information on what's changing and what's going on and what's the training trend."
For more information about retention options, soldiers should consult with their unit's retention counselor or visit the retention section of www.hrc.army.mil.