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Surveys confirm retention concerns

Army News Service

Release Date: 4/5/2004

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 5, 2004) - Recent surveys tell of broad concern that the Army faces potential challenges in retaining Soldiers when their enlistments are up.

An Army Research Institute survey of 3,399 enlisted personnel, conducted from October 2003 through January 2004, found that among Soldiers who have not deployed and are still deployed, plan to stay in the Army until retirement are on par with what's been reported over the last three years.

Junior noncommissioned officers who have deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom are less likely to remain until retirement, however.

Of 10,620 Army Reserve Soldiers surveyed as of Jan. 30, 35 percent said they plan to leave or transfer to the Inactive Ready Reserve when their enlistments end, while 28 percent said they aren't sure what they'll do, and 27 percent said they intend to re-enlist.

The most common reason reserve Soldiers gave for leaving was that their service was too stressful on their family.

Among 5,274 National Guard Soldiers surveyed in 18 states, the survey showed a 12 percent drop in the number that plan to stay in the Guard until retirement, a 6 percent drop in those who said they will re-enlist and an 8 percent increase of Soldiers who intend to leave when their enlistment is up.

Historically, the Guard has had a loss rate of 18 percent annually. That rate currently stands at 17 percent, with a 13 percent loss rate for Soldiers who have demobilized since Sept. 11, 2001, and a 3 percent loss rate among Soldiers who have demobilized in the current fiscal year, the survey said.

A recent poll by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University of 1,053 spouses of active-duty Soldiers found a majority believe the Army is heading for a major problem with retention.

Of those spouses who have loved ones deployed, 38 percent said they don't believe their spouses will re-enlist when the time comes, while 35 percent said they are certain they will stay in the Army.

Army officials aren't surprised by the results of the Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey.

"There was no blinding flash, it didn't tell us anything new,'' said Maj. Kevin Napier, chief of enlisted professional development, adding that much of the information is similar to what internal surveys have found.

One of the things the Army is looking at to counter potential retention problems is offering re-enlistment bonuses in jobs with anticipated shortfalls, or to Soldiers who re-enlist and agree to stay in certain units for at least three years, Napier said.

Officials also expect transformation efforts, which include force stabilization plans that will reduce the amount of moving Soldiers and their families go through give better predictability for deployments, will help convince Soldiers to stay in the Army.

Reserve and Guard officials are also working on re-organization plans that should give Soldiers and their families better advance notice of deployments with unit rotations schedules.

Those who work in departments or programs that offer support to Soldiers and their families with services aimed at improving quality of life also said the Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey did not contain any surprises.

They are encouraged that more spouses than not said they were satisfied with the support and concern the Army shows for families.

"Are we perfect? No,'' said David White, chief of the Army's Well-Being Liaison Office. "But we're doing this better than we've ever done it before."

Every Army installation has family assistance centers that operate through Army Community Service Centers. Additionally, the National Guard has 387 such centers in place throughout the country, White said.

Spouses also stay connected through family readiness groups, which offer a support network and a way to get information quickly. Throughout the on-going operations, White and others have been impressed with the number of family members that have donated their time to help one another.

Army One Source is another service. It's a toll-free line that connects Soldiers, family members or deployed civilians with live consultants who hold master's degrees in social work or psychology and are available to help with issues like parenting, child care, elder care, education, legal and financial, medical benefits, and household challenges. The number is (800) 464- 8107. From outside the United States dial the appropriate access code to reach a U.S. number and then (800) 464-81077 -- all 11 digits must be dialed. Hearing-impaired callers should use (800) 364-9188, and Spanish speakers can dial (888) 732-9020.

Technology helps as well. Not only does it keep them in touch with Soldiers overseas, but most Army support agencies have Web sites that keep families informed. Well-being is located at www.wblo.org and the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center is at www.armymwr.com.

Deloras Johnson, director of family programs for CFSC, said the agency is currently working on developing list servers that will deliver information in more consistent ways.

"Any time the Army goes to a different scenario, we find things that we can improve on,'' said Johnson. "One of our biggest challenges is getting information out better and faster."

When it comes to helping children, CFSC's Child and Youth Services has several options available to families. One project is a cooperative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's extension service and 4-H program.

Getting involved with 4-H keeps youths busy and connects them to peers, which helps them adjust to moving to new communities. For children of reserve-component Soldiers who don't move around, the agency is working to find them and invite them to 4-H, said Sherrie Wright, who works with the extension service and 4-H.

"Wherever they go, they can always find a 4-H club,'' Wright said.

Another program is Operation Military Kids, which debuted at the recent national 4-H conference. It offers a speaker's bureau that sends teens out into their communities to garner support for military kids. Several Army teens also shared what military life is like with the 350 youths who attended the national conference, Wright said.

The youths also put together 'hero packs' with a variety of 4-H products and useful items to take home, where they will give them to military youths in their communities.

"We're trying to build awareness and build support systems in local communities,'' Wright said.

In addition, Child and Youth Services has restructured its Army Teen Panel to include youths from families of Army Reserves, Accessions Command and National Guard Soldiers. The panel is made up of teens giving input on behalf of their peers on issues affecting them, which makes its way to Army leadership. The panel also helps teens develop leadership, community outreach and citizenship skills.

The agency is also piloting a School To School project that connects kids who are moving to a new location with other kids in the school they'll be attending. It's a youth sponsorship of sorts aimed at having a support network in place before a child arrives, said P.K. Tomlinson, deputy director of Child and Youth Services.

All of the services offered are aimed at helping children, but they also have a further-reaching impact, Tomlinson said.

"We want to help reduce loss of duty time and improve readiness," she said. "We do that when we help Soldiers take care of their families."



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