Army to enforce standards, retain quality Soldiers during drawdown

By Jennifer Mattson, NCO JournalMarch 16, 2012

5-73rd Soldiers re-enlist in Baghdad
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FORT BLISS, Texas (March 14, 2012) -- During the next five years, the Army plans to reduce the active-duty force from 570,000 to 490,000 by taking a look at who should stay and who should go. Soldiers who wish to remain in the Army will need to be committed and flexible. One in 10 Soldiers currently serving will be affected by the drawdown.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said the drawdown will impact all ranks of Soldiers from throughout the Army.

"The number one thing I want people to understand about this drawdown is that this is going to affect one in 10 people in our Army," Chandler said. "When you think about a squad, about nine people, almost one person per squad is not going to be in the Army in five years."

To implement those cuts in personnel, the Army will recruit less, retain fewer Soldiers and reduce the force through retention control points and early retirement for some Soldiers.

"We're going to cut as many Soldiers as we need to meet the Army's end strength," Chandler said. "For those people currently serving, there will be a tougher future to try to stay in the service. We're going to look at our retirement-eligible population, and some of those Soldiers are going to be asked to leave before their mandatory retirement date."


In addition, sergeants and staff sergeants already have tougher retention control points. Retention control points allow the Army to stipulate how long a Soldier can serve in a particular rank. The tougher restrictions, implemented in June 2011, weren't put in place as a part of the drawdown. Rather, they were enacted to set higher standards and help quality Soldiers progress in their career, Chandler said.

The new retention control points are 13 years for sergeant and 15 years for staff sergeant. These retention control points affect only those who are up for re-enlistment; they do not include Soldiers who already have a retirement date.

"We changed the retention control points for sergeants and staff sergeants so they will serve less time at their current grade than they have in the past," Chandler said. "That might impact about 2,000 Soldiers in the next five years."

Though tougher restrictions are being implemented for sergeants and staff sergeants, the Army plans to decrease the numbers in all its ranks, Chandler said.

"It is across-the-board cuts," Chandler said. "We are not targeting one specific rank. We are reducing the size of the Army overall. It will impact everyone from private to sergeant major."


The Army is still in the process of figuring out how to implement the drawdown. No plan has yet been put forth about what the future force will look like in regard to which military occupational specialties will be in demand or which brigades will be deactivated, Chandler said.

"Brigades are going to maintain a certain size; we're not going to say everyone from brigade X is going to be let go out of the service, but brigade Y is going to stay in," Chandler said. "We'll manage the drawdown across the Army. There will be some brigades that will no longer be in the Army structure in the future. But as an Army, we expect the brigades we retain to be fully manned, trained and equipped."

The Army will continue to retain qualified, competent and proficient Soldiers, Chandler said. But it will enforce standards more strictly, and those Soldiers with discipline problems will disappear from the ranks.

"Service is a privilege," Chandler said. "It's a privilege; it's not a right. You've got to continuously work hard to truly posture yourself as someone who is among the best, and those ways that we determine who are among the best are all common knowledge for those who are in the Army. There are performance indicators that get you promoted, and there are discipline and conduct issues that get you in trouble."

It's not just junior enlisted Soldiers who will have to worry about disciplinary issues, Chandler said.

"If you don't perform satisfactorily, you risk your ability to continue to serve, no matter what your rank is," Chandler said. "But if you're a person who strives for excellence, who tries to get better every day, you will definitely have opportunities in the Army."

The criteria for qualified Soldiers, for their promotions and for their potential among their peers won't change, Chandler said. But the Army is going to go back to focusing on the whole Soldier.

"We focus a lot on competence in our Army -- how well you shoot your weapon, how well you do on [physical training], how many awards you have, your civilian education, your military education -- those are all very important criteria," Chandler said. "Those are still going to be important criteria and one of the many ways we measure whether you are among the best. But it's also two other areas, which may be more intangible -- character and commitment. Those are going to be a really big part of [evaluating] the professional Soldier of the future."


Commanders and their NCOs will have the biggest impact in deciding who will stay and who will go, Chandler said. The Army G-1 has decided that commanders, mostly colonels, will determine which Soldiers have the greatest potential and ability to meet the needs of the Army.

"In March 2012, the re-enlistment window opens for Soldiers [scheduled to leave the Army] in fiscal year 2013," the letter on retention signed by Chandler, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh reads. "Army commands, Army service component commands, and direct reporting units will establish brigade-level re-enlistment objectives, and, just like the past, commanders will be directed to retain a percentage of the eligible population. However, unlike the past, commanders will not exceed this objective.

"This is not intended to be a race to meet the target. It is about retaining quality and keeping the right Soldiers in the Army," the letter says.

Brigade-level commanders and above will be given a retention mission, which includes a specific number of how many re-enlistments are authorized based on the strength and balance of particular military occupational specialties, known as MOSs. Commanders will not retain more than the number of Soldiers allotted to them by Army G-1. However, they will have some flexibility to retain quality Soldiers in over-strength MOSs by allowing their qualified Soldiers to re-train to other MOSs. Part of this process includes reviewing those Soldiers' evaluation reports and counseling statements.

"When determining which Soldiers are best for retention, commanders should use the 'whole Soldier' concept, including attributes, competencies, leadership potential, adherence to standards, duty performance and evaluations that demonstrate ability to serve in any MOS," the letter reads. "Under this concept, some Soldiers will be required to reclassify from overstrength career fields to understrength or balanced ones to meet Army requirements.

"It is imperative that commanders and command sergeants major ensure Soldiers receive performance counseling, as this will be one of the key tools of determining retention," the letter continues. "Tough decisions are ahead. Some fully qualified Soldiers will be denied re-enlistment. To be successful, leaders at all levels must be personally involved in the retention program. Commanders must carefully assess their Soldiers and ensure only our best Soldiers are retained to meet the needs of our Army."

Though primarily an officer's duty, NCOs have an obligation to show their commander who is proficient and who is not being professional.

"Noncommissioned officers play a huge role in helping that commander identify who really are the best performers and the people who have the best future potential," Chandler said. "And that happens through counseling, through observations, and through that engaged dialogue and conversation with your Soldiers about where they want to be and where you expect them to go. It's coaching, teaching and mentoring.

"I'm expecting all NCOs to be involved in this process, but the three NCOs who I hold personally responsible for helping to shape the Army are that company's first sergeant, battalion sergeant major and brigade command sergeant major."

Chandler said those three NCOs will most help shape the commander's retention decisions.

"The first sergeant is really the NCO who has the last direct influence on Soldiers," Chandler said. "The first sergeant is the father or mother of the unit. They have got to understand and know the Soldiers who are in their company. They have to ensure that standards are being met, that discipline is being enforced, that counseling is taking place, and that their subordinate leaders, specifically platoon sergeants and squad leaders, are engaged with their Soldiers.

"The battalion sergeant major is the one who is going to influence how programs and policies for our Army are going to actually be enforced within that battalion formation.

"Because we're a brigade-centric Army, the brigade sergeant major is the one who is going to put it all together, who is going to help us shape it. They're the right level of leadership to make sure we get to where we want to be in the Army."

Soldiers who want to stay in the Army need to be prepared to answer two questions, Chandler said. Do they still want to serve? And are they willing to change their MOS?

"If a Soldier can't answer both of those questions -- 'Yes, I am willing to serve' and 'Yes, I'm willing to serve at the needs of the Army' -- it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to stay in the Army," Chandler said. "We're not going to re-enlist people for no reason."


U.S. Army Recruiting Command has already begun preparing for a smaller Army. Only those who meet the highest qualifications will be allowed to serve, said Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Moore, command sergeant major of USAREC.

"The qualifications for the Soldiers we're bringing in right now are at an all-time high -- in academics, morals and fitness," Moore said.

USAREC stopped giving behavioral waivers -- those required for potential recruits with a pattern of misconduct in their background checks -- more than a year ago. Recruiters now also require would-be Soldiers to have high school diplomas.

"There's always going to be opportunity in today's Army for young people of high quality," Moore said. "The number of waivers is extremely low; today, 99 percent of our recruits have a high school diploma or equivalent."

Though fewer recruits will be needed, USAREC will continue to perform outreach programs to ensure the Army is represented in communities across the United States, Moore said.

"Recruiting Command is the Army in many communities throughout the United States where we don't have installations and bases," Moore said. "The things we do with outreach -- educating America, changing lifestyles and those types of activities -- aren't going to change, especially as you look for the more-qualified citizens to serve."


Ultimately, the drawdown will be managed through multiple channels -- retention, recruiting and retirement. The smaller Army will be a more professional one, Chandler said, as the Army seeks to purge its less-than-professional Soldiers from the ranks and focuses its efforts of mentoring Soldiers with the potential to be tomorrow's leaders.

"I personally believe that we can manage our drawdown by focusing on those underperforming or poor-performing Soldiers and those Soldiers who show a pattern of misconduct," Chandler said. "If we focus on those folks who do not measure up to who we say we are as an Army, along with normal attrition, we'll be fine as an Army. We don't have to implement any more Draconian measures."

The drawdown comes as the Army completes its mission in Iraq and focuses on winning in Afghanistan; after 10 years of war, the Army is switching gears, moving from the need to grow the Army to reducing it to its pre-Global War on Terrorism levels, Chandler said.

"A lot of people talk about the drawdown and think it's going to be a gigantic challenge for the Army," Chandler said. "In some ways it is -- we're fighting a war, we're deploying Soldiers, we have incredible strain on our force. But this is an opportunity for us to seek out and retain the best-qualified people for our Army and for the nation. It's our obligation to do that. And as sergeant major of the Army, my expectation is that NCOs are doing what they're supposed to do: to counsel their Soldiers, to develop their Soldiers and to help their Soldiers get better. And I'm also expecting them to enforce standards and discipline."

Related Links:

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Initiative aims to retain quality Soldiers as 2013 re-enlistment window opens

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