Army Offers new Incentives to Officers

USA Today  November 07, 2005


WASHINGTON - The Army is offering a series of new incentives to young officers to stem a rising exodus in the past two years of West Point and ROTC scholarship grads.


The number of lieutenants and captains leaving had dropped after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But it has increased almost to pre-9/11 levels because of mounting concerns about repeat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to military analysts such as Bob Scales, a retired Army major general and former commandant of the Army War College.


The percentage of young West Point graduates leaving the Army rose from 6.5% in 2003 to 10.7% in fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30. That compares with 11.6% who left in 2000.


The number of scholarship ROTC graduates who left rose from 5.1% in 2003 to 9.3% in 2005. In 2000, 10.6% left.


Most of the young officers who leave exit as soon as their minimum commitment is up; a minority leave because of injuries or other reasons.


The Army says the number of officers choosing to stay is adequate for now, but officials are taking steps to make sure the Army has enough officers for a service branch that is expanding by 30,000 troops while fighting two prolonged wars.


"We're not going to wait for the loss rates to go up. We need to find ways to retain our best and brightest," says Col. Mark Patterson, manager of officer policy for the Army.


Among the new incentives:


*The Army will offer free graduate school soon to an additional 200 young officers now serving, and to 600 future officers beginning in 2010 if they agree to stay past their initial hitches. The Army now pays for about 500 officers to attend graduate school each year.


*Some young officers will be able to choose where they will be assigned and what job they will have if they agree to remain three years beyond their first commitment. Currently, prospective Army officers can request what job they want and where they will be assigned, but there are no guarantees they will get their first choice.


*The Army will ask Congress to approve cash bonuses for officers who stay past their initial stint. The program would be similar to retention bonuses now offered to enlisted troops in hard-to-fill jobs.


*The Army is cutting the time it takes to get promoted to captain and major. Promotion to captain will drop from 42 to 38 months; for major from just less than 11 years to 10 years.


The Marine Corps has not experienced similar officer losses but will monitor the situation, says Capt. Teresa Ovalle, a Marine Corps spokeswoman.


Scales, the former Army War College commandant, says the initiatives are well timed for young officers, who face repeated trips to combat zones.


"The real issue here is the third tour," Scales says. He predicts an increased loss of young officers as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan stretch on.


Patterson says the new initiatives were developed from surveying West Point cadets and college students headed into the Army under the ROTC program. When asked which were likely to persuade them to stay longer, they said graduate school, choice of job and choice of where to live.


The Army also is suffering a severe shortfall in new recruits, but that is being offset in part by better-than-average retention rates of those who have already enlisted.


The potential officer shortage is also caused by an expansion of combat units that requires more lieutenants, captains and majors. In addition, the Army cut the size of incoming officer classes in the 1990s as part of a post-Cold War downsizing. Midcareer officers from those classes are not sufficient to fill the vacancies the Army has at the rank of major.


During the downsizing years, the Army brought in about 2,000 fewer officers than it now needs as senior captains and majors, Patterson says. It hopes to raise its retention rates to make up for the shortfall.


The Army also hopes to recruit up to 300 young officers set to leave the Air Force because of downsizing in that service, Patterson says.


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