The words "material" and "personnel" are abstractions, but the weapons systems and the devoted human beings organized to make and use them are real. Reducing the size of the military also means ending jobs and forcing career changes on many people who deserve better from their nation. However, it has become apparent that many of today's military members separate voluntarily. This research project seeks to inform the debate on military retention by examining the evidence for separations from military service into civilian community.
The objective is to identify what factors have the most weight in separation decisions, as well as the factors that have the most weight for those deciding not to separate from the service. Over the past year, members of the armed services have been separating at an alarming rate. In an effort to combat the mass exodus of people from the uniformed ranks, the government has turned to the use of re-enlistment and extension bonuses, increased pay, and numerous other incentives, but has had little success.
A common response from people leaving the armed forces is that the decision to leave has nothing to do with money, but rather other "quality of life" issues. What then are some of the major factors influencing people"s decisions to leave? For those who have decided to stay, is it because of the incentives recently offered, or would they have stayed anyway? There are several different factors involving the economy that may possibly have an effect for the status of the military population.
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The job shortfall in the lagging U. S. economy is now some 8 to 10 million; cuts in the military services will contribute an additional half million job seekers a year by the year 2000, substantially increasing the need for job creation. Has the military encouraged career-minded personnel in overstaffed job specialties to leave voluntarily (thus minimizing the lump-sum severance payment or a long-term annuity)? Are the programs as generous as the pay and benefits that military personnel are eligible for if they retire after 20 years of service?
Because the Pentagon has announced that no one with 15 years or more of service would be dismissed before hitting the 20-year mark, few people with 15 years to 20 years of service have opted to leave. The 15-20 year group includes 225,000 officers and senior enlisted personnel - 12 percent of the active-duty force. Active-duty military personnel are not vested with retirement benefits until they have served for 20 years. Once vested, they can draw sizable annuities for life, often starting in their mid-40s, while they begin second careers.
Can this be yet another reason for low retention rates? Are there differences between different service departments? Differences between officers and enlisted personnel, male/female, rank, education level, or the number of dependents of member has? All of these areas will be explored and discussed within the text. After combining personal experiences and views of our group, conducting a group survey, and analyzed the results of our research, it was not difficult to conclude that military retention is a growing problem.
There are many reasons for this, but the most stressed issues have been those which impact quality of life. The quality of life issues have become so well known that it affects recruiting efforts of all branches of the military. The following will discuss some recent literary reviews and government statements concerning retention in the military, along with the problem of retention, some reasons for the problem, and some possible solutions that are now being established. As stated earlier, issues concerning quality of life seem to be the most important when it comes to retention in the military.
For those members of the military who complete their first term successfully and whose performance warrants retention consideration, quality of life factors are important. Surveys have been able to document links between retention and quality of life. In January 1999, Maj. Gen. Donald A. Lamontagne, from Peterson Air Force Base, Co. , addressed the Air Force Space Command Public Affairs in saying that "We"ve been trying to fix pilot retention with more money, but that"s not the problem.
It"s going back and forth to the desert that"s causing the problems, and what"s happening is we are losing pilots faster than we can train them. Last year we lost out pilots at a rate of two every day. Somehow we have to stabilize this. " Military personnel are tired of being deployed for months at a time with very little notice and also want benefits and retirements enhanced and secured. Although compensation was not the leading factor in decisions to leave the military, there is a significant gap between military and civilian compensation that needs to be addressed, as this will aid in recruitment and retention.
Government budget cutbacks are also a problem, not only for reasons such as personnel benefits and retirements; for example, the Air Force alone has a $5 billion shortfall in their budget for spare-parts. This makes it very difficult to accomplish and build a world-class Air Force for the future, and lowers the morale of its members. Recruiting and retention issues are not just active duty issues. The National Guard and reserve forces also face these same challenges. Yet, here again, these members face a continuing challenge to benefits.
The AFSA (Air Force Sergeants Association), is trying to preserve one guard/reserve benefit that has paid good dividends: the current practice of providing 15 days of fully paid "military leave" to federal civil servants who are also in the guard or reserve. One administration proposal will, in effect, cost most members their military pay by limiting the total compensation to the higher of civilian pay or military pay, versus the current practice of paying both. It is believed that any such limitation will significantly harm recruiting and retention of those who are civil servants.
In particular, former (already trained) military members who become civil servants would lose a major incentive to serve in a reserve capacity. Those civil servants with no prior military service will lose a major incentive to join the reserves. Equally as important is the unknown effect this change will have on civilian employers" support that is currently provided to guard and reserve personnel. Eliminating this program clearly sends the wrong message. The decision to leave or not to join one of the services has been determined in a large part on the perceived steady decline in the quality of life and benefits.
To keep a fit, fighting force for the twenty-first century, we as a nation should find the money to pay for it. With so many problems, there is a need for many solutions. All branches of the military are establishing solutions, which in time will tell if they will be successful. The following describes some positive steps for the military, which should be helpful to many areas, and many people. According to Gen. Dick Hawley, Commander, Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, VA, a huge step concerning the quality of life issue has been made by the Air Force.
Currently, in Air Combat Command, they are giving almost 80 percent of their people four months notice of lengthy deployments, and almost never has anyone deployed from Air Combat Command with less than a month"s notice. In the past it was not unusual to get a one-week notice for a four-month deployment. This will significantly improve the stability and predictability of personal schedules so people can manage both their professional and personal lives. People can plan educational programs and family events more adequately.
Another method used by the Air Force is team basing. Individuals being deployed to certain areas are deployed in teams. This method shows support and should be positive for the morale of their people. The Air Force also is trying to combat the retention problem through assignments, especially with the home-basing concept. With overseas assignments, their people are moving earlier than they would like. With the home-basing concept, this would give the opportunity to elect a home-base location after four to six years on active duty.
The concept will allow members to remain at the base they choose for an extended number of years, possibly even until retirement. This doesn"t mean people would never leave. They may have to pull a short tour or go for training, but then they would return to the same base. This would allow families to build equity in homes, children could remain in the same schools, and spouses could keep their own jobs and careers. The longer notices of deployment would also give members time to complete or make arrangements for their continued education.
The military strives on professional military education and provides excellent reimbursements for those who choose to further their education. It has become almost mandatory to have a master"s degree to make Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, with approximately 98 percent of those selected having a master"s degree. The medical issues concerning Tricare are being looked at for possible changes for the better, along with increasing retirement benefits. The military is trying to improve Tricare to match the level of care authorized by the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP).
If done, the cost share should cost the military beneficiary no more than those insured by FEHBP and should include, as a minimum, preventative care, dental care, and a universal (including mail-order) prescription drug service. The military retirement system has changed three times, and each time decreasing the benefit. It was last changed in 1986 and now only provides retirement pay based on 40 percent of the high three years of base pay. The issue is still in debate as whether or not to increase the retirement benefit back to 50 percent of base pay.
This is a major issue in deciding whether to leave the military or to stay in longer and is also an issue when recruiting. In 1981, by way of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, U. S. Congress mandated that the Military Services, at least annually, provide each member a meaningful statement of total compensation, so that the member fully considers total compensation when making career decisions. The Department of the Navy, in particular, has established the Personal Statement of Military Compensation (PSMC).
PSMC is a long term Navy project to give members, at least once a year, a summary of total earnings as an active duty member of the U. S. Navy. The total is made up of cash pays, allowances, and bonuses. The allowances include such things as on-base housing and meals, and benefits include commissaries, exchanges, and hospitals, as well as future benefits such as retirement pay and social security payments. Navy leaders support wholeheartedly the effort to get the full compensation story out to current and potential Navy members thereby contributing to the success of Navy retention and recruiting programs.
With technological advancements growing, the military faces another problem with retention. Retention is necessary for essential positions of the military, in which members may choose to leave for whatever reason. One remedy put in place by the U. S. Office of Personnel Management is the Y2K Assistance for Agencies. This plan deals with recruiting and retaining Information Technology Professionals. The Office of Personnel Management states in their bulletin under agency-based flexibility, the procedure for retention allowances. It is stated that agencies have discretionary authority to make continuing (i. . , biweekly) payments of up to 25 percent of basic pay to individual employees and of up to 10 percent of basic pay to a group or category of employees based upon a determination by the agency that: (1) the unusually high or unique qualifications of the employees or a special need of the agency for the employees" services makes it essential to retain the employees; and (2) the employee or a significant number of employees in the targeted category would be likely to leave the Federal Government (for any reason, including retirement) in the absence of a retention allowance.
Retention allowances must be paid in accordance with the agency"s previously established retention allowance plan and must be reviewed and certified annually. Retention allowances are subject to the aggregate limitation on total pay, which is currently $151,800. Another retention technique, and also a way to increase overall morale, is by distributing performance and incentive awards.
Agencies within the military have discretionary authority to grant an employee a lump-sum cash award based on a "Fully Successful" or better rating of record or in recognition of accomplishments that contribute to the efficiency, economy, or other improvement of Government operations. Awards can be tied to specific achievements such as meeting milestones that are identified as part of the work needed to achieve Year 2000 conversion goals. Cash awards do not increase an employee"s basic pay.
Awards based on the rating of record can be up to 10 percent of salary, or up to 20 percent for exceptional performance, provided the award does not exceed $10,000 per employee. On January 5, 1999, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan called for an additional $30 billion more in Air Force spending dedicated to the readiness program over the next five years. This was in addition to the President"s already proposed injection of $110 billion into the Pentagon"s budget for the readiness program to boost mission capability rates.
The service chiefs also urged Congress to press ahead with the President"s previously announced FY 2000 overall 4. 4 percent pay raises, additional targeted pay raises for mid-grade officers and noncommissioned officers and restoration of retirement benefits to 50 percent of base pay for 20 years of service. This confirms to current and potential members of the military that programs are in place to upgrade overall qualities of the military life. According to the U. S.
General Accounting Office, more than 30 percent of first term sailors and Marines do not complete the first term of service, many for reasons that relate to poor screening rather than quality of life issues. Although quality of life issues are still considered among the most important when discussing retention, the most useful future research on quality of life issues should connect both objective and subjective variables to militarily relevant outcomes. Issues such as actual retention, on-the-job performance, and overall duty performance, and ultimately readiness and combat performance need to be looked at.
Currently, only a fraction of the quality of life research makes the connection between the inputs and these outcomes. Most of this research has focused only on retention. Researchers need to use or to develop metrics that indicate the fighting effectiveness of the military, and then to identify which quality of life programs influence these measures of effectiveness. This, along with more funding, and awareness of military life and its qualities will enhance the future of the military. The data collected came from a simple survey (Appendix A). In all, 114 surveys were collected over a period of 12 days.
There was not a particular target group, as the retention problem appears to be spread among service members of all ranks. The only criterion was that individuals had to be at least half way through his/her first enlistment or period of obligated service. This would have given them ample time to be exposed to military life and form an opinion as to whether they would continue serving in the military. Some of the individuals answering the survey seemed reluctant to provide their name, especially when they read the portion of the survey concerning dissatisfying aspects of military service.
Many questioned who would see the survey, and only filled it out after they were assured that the information would not be seen by anyone outside the research group. Once the data was collected, it was categorized based on branch of service and whether the individual was on officer or enlisted. Due to the proximity of bases in the area, members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps filled out the majority of surveys. Members of the United States Air Force filled out the remainder of the surveys. The Army was not represented. The results of the survey can be found in Appendix B.
While the total number of surveys collected represents less than one tenth of one percent of the total number of people currently on active duty, it does provide some useful data in terms of why there is a growing amount of dissatisfaction among military members. Respondents were put into one of four categories: Navy/Marine Officer; Navy/Marine Enlisted; Air Force Officer; and Air Force Enlisted. Most categories balanced as expected with the exception of two - average age and average time in service for Air Force enlisted members. Both were higher than expected due to a relatively large number of senior-enlisted within the group.
When asked what the primary reason for joining the military was, sixty-two percent (62%) answered "to serve my country" or some variation of that statement. Eleven percent (11%) responded that they joined to have a job or career. Ten percent (10%) answered that they joined because of the opportunity to travel, while an additional ten percent (10%) said they joined as a means toward receiving a higher education. Relating these responses to Maslow"s Need Hierarchy, it can be said that military service, in some way, for some people, satisfies one or more of those needs.
Service to country, making what they feel is a meaningful contribution, satisfies the inner need for self-actualization. The military is often viewed as a log-term commitment or even life-long career, with a high degree of job security. Although there have been numerous reductions-in-force (RIFs) over the years due to a steadily declining budget, the military is still seen as an organization where its members can stay for as long as they desire. This, according to Maslow, would satisfy the need for security.
The opportunity to further one"s education and to travel fulfills the need for self-esteem. Ever since the Gulf War, the public"s opinion of those in the military has risen significantly in the favorable direction. All of these contribute to positive feelings by military members and help satisfy the need for self-esteem. When asked which aspects of military service were most satisfying, the most common answer, by far, was making friends. Again, when relating this to the Need Hierarchy, the social need is the only one that cannot be met by an individual.
It is reasonable to assume that this need is important because of the unique type of demands military service puts on a family. The majority of service members have to re-locate, on average, every three years. This equates to a new home, new jobs, and new schools for everyone. Even though a service member might choose to serve 20 years, he has more than likely moved at least 6 times, unlike his civilian counterpart, who in 20 years may have never moved once. The second most common response regarding satisfying aspects was the opportunity to travel.
Again, moving every 3 years, gives personnel ample opportunity to live in a variety of locations both stateside and abroad. There are many bases throughout the world. Getting stationed in some of the more desirable areas certainly makes the idea of relocating easier. If an individual is assigned to a deploying unit, he/she can expect to go to different areas, as required, for duration of a few days to as long as six months. This is not always seen as a satisfying aspect and the negative side of this will be discussed later.
Also, certain "perks" such as the use of Air Mobility Command (AMC), provides the ability to travel all over the world on a space available basis with little or no cost to personnel. We also asked military personnel what the three most dissatisfying aspects of being in the military were. Due to the differences in military branch, rank, time in service, and age, we received a variety of reasons. Like any other survey we received some questionable responses, such as not being able to smoke pot (marijuana) and having to wear a uniform everyday. At times it was hard to distinguish whether these responses were serious.
On the other hand, we also received many valid reasons. From the results of the 114 surveys we got back, it was determined that the three most common dissatisfying aspects of being in the military were: family separation, poor leadership, and eroding benefits. Family separation is of great concern for the majority of military members, particularly those who are married. Military members can be assigned permanent change of station (PCS) orders unaccompanied (without spouse or other dependents) for up to 15 months or they can be sent to numerous short notice deployments.
Whether they are Navy, Marines, or Air Force, they are sent away from their families an average of 40% to 50% percent of the year. Some examples of these separations were provided on the additional comments section. For Navy personnel, they had to be away from their families for approximately 6 months in order to fulfill their ship/sea duty as required by the Navy. In some instances, such as for pilots, they were re-deployed from the carriers to different locations for unspecified lengths of time. For Marines, they were also tasked for numerous deployments through out the year without knowing how long they would be gone.
The Marine pilots were also in the same position as the Navy pilots, as they usually train together on aircraft carriers. For Air Force personnel, the situation was similar. Numerous deployments throughout the year to different bases, such as Southwest Asia, which are at least 4 months long, seem to be very unpopular among military members. These deployments are usually to remote places half way around the world where living conditions are very poor. Some locations don"t even provide individuals a way to communicate back to their families. These situations take a toll on marriages.
Several surveys indicated that these types of constant deployments contributed to military members being divorced at least two or three times throughout their military careers. For single military members, being away from their home stations also made it impossible for them to go home on leave to visit their families. Many of the young, single enlisted members said it was difficult not to be able to go home for holidays, but rather having to spend them alone at deployed locations. In some instances, it was impossible for military members to go home at times of emergency, such as severe illness or death of an immediate family member.
These situations are hard enough and family separation only makes them more difficult. There are numerous reasons why deployments or unaccompanied permanent change of stations (PCS"s) can cause hardships on military members but the main dissatisfaction is family separation. Poor Leadership is another popular dissatisfying aspect of being in the military. Just like any organization, you are going to have a few managers/leaders that are not very popular among employees. In the military, managers or leaders are appointed differently than in traditional civilian organizations. Supervisors or leaders are appointed according to rank.
For example, if somebody is newly appointed to your section and he or she is the highest- ranking person there, they are usually the ones in charge of the section. For this reason, you might get a good leader that knows how to treat people and take care of business, or you might get the "micro-managing" leader that is just looking out for him/herself in order to get a promotion or favorable evaluation. This type of leadership is found in every position throughout the military. It can range from one"s immediate supervisor, to shop chief, flight chief, section commander, squadron commander and so on.
Since one of the main goals of every military member is to achieve the highest rank possible, criticizing or speaking out against poor leadership can be detrimental to one"s career advancement. One of the main complaints about leadership, according to those answering the survey, is that leadership does not remain constant. People, usually those in leadership positions that are trying to "get a check in the block" for the next promotion, can be assigned to a duty station or duty section anywhere from one to three or more years. These leaders usually try to quick-fix existing problems or they leave them for the person replacing them.
This results in work sections getting a mix of management styles. The assigned personnel that remain are the ones that have to endure this. They might get good leaders for short periods of time and then have them replaced by bad leaders and so on throughout their assignment. Yet another example of poor leadership, according to surveyees, are those who "brown-nose" or "suck-up" to leaders in the organizations. These are leaders that are afraid or not willing to make suggestions to superiors on how to fix organizational problems. They would rather blindly do as their superiors tell them.
These leaders or "politicians", as stated before, are just looking out for themselves. Eroding benefits was the third most common dissatisfying aspect of being in the military. According to those "career" military members that have been in over ten years, military benefits have been cut back drastically over the past few years. Those members that joined the military within the last few years do not have the same benefits that those that joined over ten years ago do. For example, the amount of retirement pay after 20 years of service is 50% of base pay for those that joined prior to 1986 and 40% for those that have joined since.
Another major complaint is that medical benefits and the quality of medical care have been decreasing every year. Another source of dissatisfaction is that training opportunities or assignment preferences are not available anymore. Some personnel feel stuck in certain locations, and it denies them one of the major reasons for joining in the first place – an opportunity to travel. While some personnel enjoy the stability of not having to move as much, there are many who like to move at the end of their tour and move on to another location.
Military members see cutbacks as the major reason for increased family separation, decreasing benefits, and the development and advancement of poor leaders. Over the last several years, the military has gone through a massive downsizing. This resulted in having to continuously do more with less. The operations tempo of many flying squadrons increased and due to under-manning, assigned personnel has to constantly go on deployments. Promotions are now harder to come by because now there are many people competing for fewer positions. The cutbacks in the military budget have caused the closing of many military installations around the world.
Military members viewed many of these installations as benefits because they were considered popular assignment preferences. These assignments were in popular spots around the world that were, for some members, reason to join the military in order to get there. There are various reasons individuals are deciding to voluntarily leave the military. Despite relatively high job security and increasing monetary incentives, many do not feel this is compensation enough to have to endure the increasing hardships put upon them. What can the military do to retain personnel?
The government must start by addressing the numerous quality of life issues that military members currently face. Merely offering more money to people will entice some to stay, but the reason most people joined in the first place had nothing to do with money. It is a well-known fact, verified by numerous studies, that a pay gap exists between military members and what would be considered their equivalent civilian counterpart. Until these issues are addressed and personnel start to see a real change in operations and personnel tempo, the military is going to continue to see good people leave its ranks.
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