FORT HOOD, Texas (Dec. 21, 2011) -- Soldiers whose term of service is scheduled to end in fiscal year 2012 and want to stay in the Army must make that commitment sooner rather than later.

With looming cuts to the force, the retention mission has been affected and Soldiers who want to re-enlist must do so by Jan. 31.

"This is a huge change in how we do business," said Sgt. Maj. Rob Sluss, III Corps and Fort Hood Retention sergeant major.

The biggest change is for Soldiers whose terms expire late in the fiscal year.

"Soldiers who (are scheduled to depart the Army) before October 1, 2012, have to decide by January 31," Sluss said. "Soldiers slated to (depart the Army) May through September are the most affected."

This year's retention mission is being conducted in two phases.

The first phase is the Jan. 31 deadline for Soldiers with estimated time of separation, or ETS, dates that fall in fiscal year 2012.

One caveat to the changes, Sluss added, is the traditional 90-day window remains in effect that states Soldiers have up to 90 days from their ETS date to re-enlist or Jan. 31, whichever occurs first.

Phase two begins March 1 when the re-enlistment window for those scheduled to ETS in fiscal year 2013 opens, Sluss said.

For example, Soldiers whose terms of service were slated to end March 22 needed to re-enlist by Dec. 22 if they wanted to stay in the Army.

With a little more than a month left for Soldiers with fiscal year 2012 ETS dates to decide whether to stay in the Army or not, III Corps is ahead of the glide path to meet current retention goals, at about 73 percent, Sluss said.

Retention counselors are reaching out to units to make sure Soldiers under the fiscal year 2012 deadline know the policy change, especially those who wish to continue to serve on active-duty.

"Right now, we want to get the message out and ensure Soldiers understand that this will impact you," the retention sergeant major said.

Sluss said the retention policy is a big change from a few years ago, when Soldiers could re-enlist two years from their ETS window, during the troop surge in Iraq.

Now, with all U.S. troops scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of this month and deployments to Afghanistan slowing, the Army is changing and troop reductions are on the table.

Reduced force numbers could mean Soldiers in over-strength military occupational specialties will need to find new jobs, as Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said in an Army News Service story.

"You have to be committed to serve the Army in the capacity that we need you," Chandler said. "There are going to be some Soldiers that are going to be afforded the privilege to stay in service, but they may have to choose a different MOS (military occupational specialty). And for some folks that may not be palatable."

Staff Sgt. Russell Mathis, a career counselor with 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, frequently sees Soldiers potentially facing the dilemma of changing an MOS to stay in the Army since many slots in the aviation world are more than full.

"Only two of our 15 series are not over-strength," Mathis said.

He said he tells any Soldier who comes to him in an over-strength MOS slot that they are on limited time to re-enlist and there are limited seats in schools right now.

Mathis asks Soldiers what their ultimate goal is, whether it is to stay in the Army or join the veterans ranks. For those who want to stay, he encourages them to look into the other skill sets they possess that might better fit the needs of the Army.

"If you can't merge your goals with the Army's needs, you probably need to get out," Mathis said.

Among those who want to stay in the Army, Mathis said most do not have an issue with re-classing.

"I lay out all the options," he said.

The Air Cavalry Brigade career counselor said he has not had much negative feedback from Soldiers about the Jan. 31 deadline to re-enlist, but there are some holding out to see what happens next.

"I do have some that are hoping the Army will change its mind," Mathis said. "Others are trying to get their scores up so more re-class options are open for them."

Currently, there are several under-strength MOS series that Soldiers can explore, but slots are filling fast, Sluss said.

Those working in retention are encouraging Soldiers who want to stay in the Army to go to Education Services and work to raise their Armed Forces Classification Test scores to help them find new jobs.

Most importantly, career counselors are spreading the word about the early re-enlistment deadline and urging those scheduled to ETS in fiscal year 2012 to act now rather than later.

"Soldiers need to make a decision," Sluss said. "Waiting until the last minute is not going to benefit them or their families."