Army Faces Crippling Shortfall in Re-Enlistment

Monday, 24 November 2003 23:42 by: Anonymous

     Army Reserve Battles an Exodus
     By Robert Schlesinger
     The Boston Globe

     Monday 24 November 2003

Branch misses its retention goal by 6.7 percent

    WASHINGTON | The U.S. Army Reserve fell short of its re-enlistment goals this fiscal year, underscoring Pentagon fears that the protracted conflict in Iraq could cause a crippling exodus from the armed services.

    The Army Reserve has missed its retention goal by 6.7 percent, the second shortfall since fiscal 1997. It was largely the result of a larger than expected exodus of career reservists, a loss of valuable skills because such staff members are responsible for training junior officers and operating complex weapons systems.

     The Army has invested an enormous amount of money in training these people, and they re very hard to replace, said John Pike of globalsecurity.org, an independent research group in Washington, D.C.

    With extended deployments and increasingly deadly attacks by Iraqi guerrillas, Defense Department officials are scrambling to combat a broader downturn in retention and recruitment that they fear is on the horizon.

    The U.S. Army, the primary service deployed in Iraq, is offering re-enlistment bonuses of $5,000 for soldiers serving there. The Army National Guard is extending an official thank-you to members by arranging services to honor returning soldiers. The Massachusetts National Guard is offering rewards ranging from plaques to NASCAR tickets to members who lure recruits. And throughout the branches, recruitment advertising is up and programs are being launched to make the military seem more family-friendly.

    The Army also is resorting to a policy called stop loss that allows the Pentagon to indefinitely keep soldiers from leaving the service once their time has expired. The policy, used during war, is designed to prevent staffing shortfalls in key sectors.

    As the military ponders unpalatable measures further Reserve or Guard call-ups, back-to-back tours of duty to fill the global obligations, any personnel shortfalls could prove disastrous.

     It s a slippery slope in the sense that there s kind of a snowball effect, said Andrew F. Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on defense issues. It s very difficult to work your way out of, very difficult to put Humpty Dumpty back together again once you break the force.

    While Pentagon officials have insisted that recruiting and retention figures are mostly at or above expected levels, thanks in part to a soft economy that offers little competition, signs of trouble are emerging. Recruiting for the Massachusetts National Guard, a backup to the professional Army and Air Force, was down 30 percent this year. Nationwide, the Army National Guard has fallen 13 percent short of its recruiting goal, although that deficit was offset by fewer than expected troops leaving the service.

    Sgt. Maj. James Vales, senior Army counselor in charge of overseeing active-duty retention policy, said his shop of 740 career counselors has been answering concerns from members of Congress and Army leaders about trying to prevent a talent drain.

     We have some things in the works to kind of offset any problems that we may see in retention, Vales said, citing options ranging from family-friendly policies like support groups and child care to his most important tool: cash. Most of (the effort) is increasing our retention bonus dollars. . . . The biggest thing soldiers respond to is monetary incentives.

    It was the second time in the past seven years that the Reserve has fallen below its intended reenlistment figure, according to Steve Stromvall, an Army Reserve spokesman. In the 12 months that concluded at the end of September 2001, the Reserves was 1 percent short of its number.

    That the shortfall was entirely among career soldiers is important because they are considered the Army s backbone.

     They re critically important, said Cindy Williams, a specialist on military personnel issues with MIT s Security Studies Program. That s where the leadership is going to come from in the next decade.

    They are people like Staff Sergeant Scott Durst, a 15-year veteran of the Army Reserve who extended his enlistment after a tour in Bosnia but will not sign on for another tour after Iraq, though it will means he loses the opportunity for retirement benefits.

     Not even a chance, no, said his wife Nancy Durst, a high school art teacher. He didn t sign up to be a Reserve to be doing active-duty orders every year.

    She added that her husband, a member of the 94th Military Police Company, has spent too much time away from their home in southern Maine and their two teenage daughters.

     I fear there will be a negative impact on retention of these Guard and Reserve personnel, said Senator Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine who sits on the personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. There s an old saying in the Army that they enlist the soldier but reenlist the family, and the new one-year boots on the ground policy for service in Iraq has really upset a lot of the families with whom I ve talked.

    According to internal Pentagon surveys conducted last spring and summer, the overall percentage of troops intending to reenlist remained steady from last year, at 58 percent. But among those serving in Iraq, only 54 percent who were surveyed agreed, while 46 percent said they did not want to reenlist.

    Michael O Hanlon, a defense specialist at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, called the figures at the threshold of tolerable. In and of themselves they re not catastrophic, but the problem is they could get worse because as people increasingly confirm the reality of returning to Iraq another time these numbers can be expected to drop further. If you wait too long to address the trends, then it s too late.

    In 2003, the Army s retention goal was 67 percent.

    Like the recruiting shortfall in the Guard, the Reserve s 2003 retention figure, which was off by slightly less than 100 soldiers, was offset by stronger than expected recruiting.

    The Army, which oversees the bulk of troops in Iraq, is not the only branch of the armed services facing hardships in recruitment and retention because of the Iraq war.

    Air Force Major Joe Allegretti, chief of the Defense Department s Joint Recruiting Advertising Program, cited a poll of youths conducted from April through June in which half said the war in Iraq made them less likely to join the military, and only one-third said it made them more likely to join.

    
Reserve and Guard leaders are working to improve relations with stateside families by setting up support networks, including marriage enhancement seminars run through the Army Reserve s chaplaincy and designed to address such issues as long separations during deployments.

    Guard leaders also have sent teams into Iraq to work on the problem. Several soldiers spread between Iraq and Kuwait try to act as trouble-shooters for unhappy Guard members, checking back twice weekly with Guard headquarters in the United States, said Colonel Frank Grass, the Guard s chief of operations.

    And thanks to stop loss, members of the Guard and Reserve cannot leave the military until 90 days after they have been deactivated.


     Go to Original

     As Iraq Deaths Mount, Grief Surrounds Fort Campbell
     By James Malone
     The Courier-Journal

     Tuesday 25 November 2003

52 of post's fighters have died in conflict

    OAK GROVE, Ky. It can start with a knock on the door.

    A soldier in full dress uniform, sometimes accompanied by a chaplain, has the duty of delivering the terrible news to the next of kin.

    At dawn on Oct.24 Jeannie Hancock looked out the window of her Clarksville, Tenn., home and saw a car turn into her driveway. Two uniformed men approached the house.

    She had had an uneasy feeling overnight. Typically, she said, she chatted online several times a week with her husband, Sgt. Michael Hancock, serving with Charlie Battery of the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery. But that night he did not reply to her e-mail message.

    "Something did not feel right," she remembers.

    When she opened the door, she said, "I remember looking at them and telling them, `No, tell me he's hurt, he's wounded, don't you dare tell me he's dead.' They hung their heads down. I so wanted that to be what they were telling me, that he was injured."

    Hancock, 31, collapsed, sobbing.

    Since the United States began the war in Iraq on March20, similar scenes have played out 52 times among families of Fort Campbell soldiers, mostly involving the 101st Airborne Division and its supporting units. As of Friday, 424 U.S. service members had died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq 294 from hostile action.

    Most recently, 17 members of the 101st were killed on Nov.15 when two Blackhawk helicopters collided over Mosul.

    Michael Hancock was killed while on guard duty in Mosul and several armed Iraqis opened fire.

    Upon hearing the news, Jeannie Hancock beat her fist against the wall, waking her four children, ages 10, 9, 7 and 3. "My little 3-year-old, Christopher, stomped through the house and said, `I'm going over there and bring my daddy back.' He's the only one who really doesn't understand," she said.

    The rest of the morning was a daze. Hancock kept her children home but went to their school to talk with teachers and counselors. Then she stopped at a pancake house where she and her husband used to drink coffee. Hancock said the news was "devastation everything in your life just crashes."

    Dreading the Army's knock on the door

    Eugene Acklin knows that feeling. He has heard the knock, too.

    He turned on his porch light and looked out the peephole.

    "I saw a soldier in a uniform," he said. "The first thing that came to my mind was that something had happened bad." The soldier didn't have to say a word. "I knew," Acklin said.

    His grandson, Michael Acklin, a 25-year-old Louisville resident, was killed in the Blackhawk collision. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, 101st Airborne Division. Eugene Acklin was asked to call Michael's parents. Then he and the soldier waited together until Michael and Dottie Acklin arrived so they could all hear the news together.

    The Monday after the deadly Blackhawk collision on a Saturday Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st, in a statement asked the Fort Campbell community to embrace "those who have lost loved ones in the fight to bring freedom and democracy to a long oppressed nation."

    "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 17 soldiers who were killed. ... The losses we suffered are almost beyond comprehension," he said.

    "Our fallen comrades were friends and fellow soldiers with whom we had served and sacrificed, fought a tough enemy and helped a nation rebuild. The losses however will not cause us to falter or fail. To the contrary, these losses will lead us to redouble our efforts and drive on. If we are to continue making progress, and we have indeed made great progress, we must continue to move forward. We are resolved to do just that. The 101st suffered a terrible loss the night of the 15th and it may be that we will suffer more losses before we all return to Fort Campbell. However, every loss serves as a grim reminder of the need to remain determined, resolute and courageous in the fight in which we are engaged."

    It was April when family members of Spc. Thomas A. Foley III of Dresden, Tenn., got the news they feared. Anetta Courtney of Dresden, Foley's grandmother, had nodded off to sleep when she heard a car coming up the driveway to her rural home.

    Two Army officers came to the door. With two grandsons, Tommy and David Foley, both serving in Iraq, Anetta Courtney said she frantically asked them, "Which one? Just tell me which one?"

    Foley's mother, Emily Darden, lives elsewhere in Dresden, so the family and soldiers waited until everyone was together. Thomas Foley, 23, assigned to B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 44th Defense Artillery Regiment, was killed near Iraq on April14 in a noncombat grenade explosion.

    "He told us he was sorry," Anetta Courtney said of one of the officers. "They stayed for about 30 minutes and tried to comfort us. They were great. They came to Tommy's funeral and have been very good to work with his wife, Paulette, and her son, Logan.

    "We are just trying to get our life back to normal now," Anetta Courtney said.

    Army Chaplain Maj. David Giammona is one of the people trying to help grieving families return to normal. He has met with several families at Fort Campbell who lost soldiers in the most recent helicopter crashes. Everyone reacts differently, he said.

    "You don't want it to happen," he said, "but in the military, you brace yourself for it and try to prepare."

    When he meets with families, he said, "I do a lot of praying and reading the Bible."

    He can identify somewhat with their experiences, he said, since his son, a Georgia National Guardsman, was injured in Iraq. He said military families always know in the back of their minds that a tragedy can happen.

    The weekend after Michael Hancock was killed, Jeannie Hancock said, her family did things together to stay busy. They went out to eat and watched a movie.

    Now, she said, she feels she is living a nightmare.

    "I keep waiting to wake up. ... I wait for it to end and we will all be together again," she said. "Then I realize I am living a military family's worst nightmare."

    Michael Hancock was in his second tour of duty at Fort Campbell. He had asked to return to the 101st Airborne from an assignment in Alaska in August and was shipped out to Iraq on Oct.1.

    Hancock was the 25th soldier from Fort Campbell to die in the Iraqi theater. Since then there have been 27 more.

    Hancock was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart. Army documents say he left his post to lead his men to safety after they came under attack while guarding a grain storage facility near Mosul. The citation said Hancock repelled an attack by overwhelming enemy forces when he was fatally wounded.

    Jeannie Hancock said Petraeus, the commanding general from the 101st Airborne, called her from Iraq to offer condolences.

    "He said he did not know Michael, but from everything he had heard he was a very good soldier," Hancock said. "He almost started crying on the phone with me."

    Stress on families knows no boundaries

    It isn't just the families who have suffered a loss of a loved one who are affected by the deaths. Some families at Fort Campbell say the toughest part of the deployment is not knowing the fate of their loved ones.

    Leona Ferrell, coordinator of the Family Readiness Center at Fort Campbell, said she tries not to watch television news. "Last year, my husband was in Afghanistan and I watched the news day and night every single day I didn't miss and it made me crazy, so I try not to watch," she said.

    "I know by seeing the news people outside Gate 4 that something has happened and then I'll watch. But, you can't I have kids, our families go on and our daily lives go on and you can't be upset all the time," she said. "We watch the news when something's happened so we're up to date when people call us and we'll know what to tell them and how to help them."

    As word of an accident, ambush or helicopter crash moves through the post, waiting for word about the soldiers "is like somebody wanting to rip your heart out," said Phyllis Moreno of Oak Grove, whose husband, Antonio, is a sergeant serving near Mosul.

    Corey Cole, 27, whose husband, Eric, is a specialist with the 101st, said she learned last week that Eric was supposed to have been on one of the helicopters that crashed Nov.15. Two members of his unit were onboard and were killed.

    "My heart went to my stomach and I said to myself, `It's time for him to be home and be here seeing his children grow up,'" Cole said. The Coles have four children. The youngest, 5-month-old Dakota, was born after Eric was deployed.

    "My biggest fear is that he could die and never have seen his son," Cole said.

    For Moreno the hardest part of her day is putting her children to bed. "They ask, `When is daddy coming home?'" she said. "I tell them, `Soon.'"

    Nine months into what is expected to be a yearlong deployment for the 101st, families left behind are preparing for the holidays and are worried about at the rising casualty list.

    Ferrell, whose children are 21, 18 and 5, said she keeps her spirits up by believing that her husband will return. But the waiting is sometimes awful, she said. "We wait, every day."

    "For Thanksgiving, we will charge full steam ahead. We are going to do the best we can. Every time we have a holiday, we take pictures, digital pictures. We pretend as if he's there."

    Rise in deaths takes a toll on morale

    But Farrell said she believes morale among military families has fallen.

    "The units can only tell us so much, and we know they can only tell us so much," she said. "We get our strength from our friends and the other people who are going through the same thing we are going through."

    Michael and Jeannie Hancock talked online for the last time on Oct.21.

    "We said that we loved each other and he couldn't wait to get home," she said.

    Hancock said she now spends her days collecting paperwork for the Army casualty officer assigned to assist her in obtaining benefits. And she said the family will soon begin attending counseling.

    Seven-year-old Ashley still draws pictures for her father. "She writes on them, `I love you dad' and I tell her he is a guardian angel looking over her," Jeannie Hancock said.

    And for other spouses who lose a soldier, she said, "They will never get over it; they will have to live with it." Hancock said she has begun attending family support groups for her late husband's unit.

    "Some people tell me that I am their inspiration because I am so strong," she said. "I tell them I'm not that strong. It's just a front. What hurts most is when you're laying there in your bed at night by yourself. It's OK when they're deployed, it's OK when they're in the field because you know where they are. But when you know they have gone on, it hurts."

  -------

Jump to TO Features for Wednesday 26 November 2003



Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 13:45