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Pentagon launches 'Operation Blue to Green'

Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 28, 2004) -- Sailors and Airmen may soon be able to "Go Army" under a new Defense Department program intended to rebalance the size of the military. The program is generating new opportunities for continued service and career advancement for those willing to transfer into the Army from other services.

Under "Operation Blue to Green," the Army will reach out to Sailors and Airmen and underscore the advantages of swapping their present uniform for Army green.

"We admire everyone who serves in the nation's uniform," said Lt. Gen. "Buster" Hagenbeck, the Army's uniformed personnel chief, "but I know that anyone who looks closely at today's Army will find a lot to be excited about -- we are growing, and we need experienced people to lead that transition."

Both the House and the Senate have shown an interest in hiking Army strength by perhaps tens of thousands over the next few years, although the final number has not yet been set, officials said.

At the same time, the Navy is planning a force reduction of 8,000 in fiscal 2005, with the Air Force trimming more than 20,000 over the same period.

When the shifts are done, officials said, Pentagon leaders are determined to see to it that the best people are still in uniform -- even if that means a different uniform. And they plan to achieve that outcome entirely by way of voluntary choice.

Where necessary, the Army plans to use bonuses to stimulate the needed service transfers and to carefully guide the experience mix so that promotions stay strong.

The focus of the effort centers on grades E-1 through E-5, but other grades will be considered in meeting Army needs, officials said. For example, the Army will continue to have a sizable demand in areas that share much common ground with other services in knowledge, skill and ability. These include law enforcement, health care, communications and intelligence.

As an incentive to join the Army under Operation Blue to Green, bonuses are being offered to those who have skills that convert to the Army's most needed military occupational specialties.

"There are 120 Air Force specialty codes that will transfer into 37 Army MOSs, and the Navy has 112 ratings that will transfer into 42 Army MOSs," said Col. Norvel Dillard, chief of the Army's Enlisted Accessions Division. "Those are 'Job One,' but we're looking at others as well. We're also looking for officers, primarily junior officers."

Anyone who makes the shift would carry over all creditable active federal service, and procedures will ensure that those migrating within the active force experience no break in service.

Hagenbeck said the program is being designed to make certain there is no break in service and no impact on Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits already "banked" by a member.

In the past few weeks, more than 1,000 Sailors and Airmen have checked out the Operation Blue to Green information on the Web, and answered a questionnaire and indicated intent to transfer. Nearly three-fourths of those exploring the option say they are "very interested" or "ready to transfer."

The procedure is generally expected to operate like this:

The Army will first match its needs to the skills in other services. An outgrowth of that effort will be the identification of places where that audience is concentrated, so that an orientation team can be scheduled to visit that base. They would then meet with interested members and their families and explain the options.

Following a short presentation, one-to-one dialogue would be encouraged with team members on the spot -- some from the Army's Recruiting Command, who can explain the mechanics of the program, and some from operational Army units eager to explain the Army today. The Blue to Green Web link also is being expanded to include chat rooms.

"We are eager to tell our story," said Hagenbeck, "and we'll take whatever time a person needs to make a fully informed choice and to be comfortable with their decisions. . We look forward to that dialogue."

Once a person's eligibility is confirmed, the losing service would be contacted to effect an agreement to release. New service agreements would be drafted, and the Sailor or Airman would make the move. In many cases, they would carry a directly transferable skill. Otherwise, training in the new skill would be scheduled as part of the move.

In order to qualify, the Sailor or Airman must be eligible for re-enlistment, must be physically fit, and meet Army height and weight standards.

If the skill is transferable, the new Soldier would be scheduled for a new, four- week Warrior Transition Course, where he or she will be offered a curriculum that provides essential skills and abilities needed in their new service. Topics would include an orientation on organization, rank, uniform wear and career progression. The first WTC is scheduled to start in September at Fort Knox, Ky. It is planned as transition training, not boot camp, officials said.

Those transitioning to a new skill, particularly in combat-arms areas like special operations, would participate in the full range of developmental training to hone current talents and provide a new set of skills and abilities. Officers would not attend WTC, but would normally attend training unique to their branch depending on their grade and experience, officials said.

Upon transfer, new Soldiers would be eligible to compete for promotion so long as they meet Army minimums, which can be years shorter than other services.

The Army's recruiting goal for the fiscal 2005, which begins in October, is about 80,000. Of that number, the Army hopes to recruit at least 8,000 prior-service troops.

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