PHOENIX - "The Army is strong."

That is the prevalent message to nearly 700 Army career counselors - widely known as retention counselors - attending the annual Worldwide Retention Training Seminar Nov. 1-5 at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Resort. The annual seminar is held to educate career counselors to properly navigate through the ever-changing environment of retaining a combat-ready force. It also helps to build and maintain a standard within the Army Retention Program.

"The Army is in great shape right now," said Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, director of Military Personnel Management at the Pentagon. "Not only do we have the highest quality Soldiers in a decade, we have the highest quality since 1992. We made mission easily this year... we are filling all three components."

Retention counselors from around the globe attended the training seminar, coming from every Army command, division and corps from the Active and Reserve components and National Guard. Along with the core briefings that affected the overall retention program, the different components and command levels all had specific sessions to address issues within their communities.

This year's conference was executed by the Retention Office staff of the Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command (Army), Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Brig. Gen. Jennifer Napper, NETCOM/9th SC(A) commanding general, opened this year's annual conference by commending the career counselors on their professionalism and success in retaining high-quality Soldiers over the year.

"In 2010, the Army achieved great success in our recruiting efforts - topping over 100 percent in both Regular Army and Army Reserve enlistments... accomplishments which are unprecedented in a time of war," Napper said. "It is a tribute to the career counselors in this room that in the past few years, you have excelled in your mission to retain the Soldiers we need for the future - the Soldiers we have already trained and developed... the ones we have already invested time."

Along with professional development briefings, the counselors were treated to several guest speakers. Guest speakers included: Cheek, retired Brig. Gen. Rebecca Halstead, the first woman West Pointer to be promoted to general officer rank; retired Marine Col. Jay Vargas, who received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam, and; Keith Little, one of the few remaining Navajo Code Talkers from World War II.

Halstead, who retired in 2008, is currently the executive director for leader development with Praevius Group, Inc., and specializes in motivational speaking and developing leader training programs. A self-described "country girl from a town with no traffic lights," Halstead spoke about leadership, how her experiences shaped her and how it all translated into what she does today.
Her message to the career counselors was to be themselves when helping the Soldier make the decision to stay in the service, and to care for the person - not just see them as numbers. Halstead said it should be easy since the Army values led to that very outcome.

"If leadership in the corporate world, industry and local governments had the same values as the military, what a country we would have."

During the days of briefings and training, career counselors were given a dose of possible upcoming realities in the Army. More than one briefer talked about changes currently working their way through the system that could affect the career counselors' jobs later. Some of the changes include the promotion eligibility policy that could affect moving into mid-grade and senior NCO ranks, and possible re-valuation of points for promotion to sergeant and staff sergeant.

These changes, said Sgt. Maj. Thomas Gills, the Army G-1 sergeant major, are the result of inequality and imbalance between the ranks and the lack of conformity in regards to NCO Education System requirements. Possible changes will include completion of resident and non-traditional courses before moving up to the next rank.

Cheek said these changes are due in large part to the successful recruiting and retention programs throughout the Army. With the higher caliber of Soldiers coming and staying, the Army is looking at keeping the best; and that means career counselors will have to be more discriminating.

"What a challenge you have to figure out which men and women to keep in service," Cheek said. "Use your experience and expertise, and remove any blinders or limitations you set on yourself."

Vargas, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the three-day battle at Dai Do, Vietnam, recounted his units' actions for only the second time since the event and was treated to standing ovations from the assembled noncommissioned officers. He sat through most of the briefings, and understood the challenges the NCOs would be facing in the coming year. When he spoke to the career counselors, he did it the way a Marine does best - direct and to the point.
He knew that there were going to come a day when the counselors assembled would have to tell a good Soldier that he or she did not meet the standards to re-enlist.

"You're going to have to make some tough decisions," Vargas said. "You all have to be prepared, and have your stuff together, because it's going to hurt."

Career counselors also had opportunities to speak with vendors who specialize in producing the cool trinkets Soldiers get when they re-enlist. With their best wares on display - pens, flashlights, cups, knives, backpacks and more - vendors were able to converse face-to-face with many of the people who had ordered from them and place a face to a voice. This interface, in turn, provides retention NCOs with additional resources from where they can enhance their retention incentives, said Sgt. 1st Class Derek Yazzie, NETCOM/9th SC(A) Retention Office.