Friday, August 31, 2007

Re-Up at Aggressor

Retention and reenlistment are important missions in the military. For Commanders, Sergeants Major, and First Sergeants these can be burdensome. For Soldiers, the decision whether or not to stay in, and under what circumstances, can be very stressful for them and their families. Soldiers cannot re-enlist whenever they choose. A Soldier must be in good professional standing, and he must be in his window of re-enlistment: he must have completed a certain amount of his previous contract before he can renew it, and the Army must have the need for someone in his particular speciality. Some would argue that being in the middle of a 15 month, combat deployment is not an ideal time to ask yourself whether you're up for more. It's like trying to decide whether to run next month's marathon while running this month's. Then again, in spite of all the suffering and frustration that goes on during combat operations--this is what Soldiers have signed up to do, so perhaps it is a good time to consider one's options. If you didn't already know, officers and non-commissioned officers near the end of their careers do not re-enlist. At a time when there's talk in Washington about re-instituting the draft, I am encouraged that I work with Soldiers who have volunteered to be here. I think of my own father, who, right out of high school, joined the Marines when many were being drafted into the Army.
Sergeant First Class Smith, our Retention and Re-enlistment specialist, tells me that only a few months ago our battalion had the lowest re-enlistment percentages in the entire division (more than 30 battalions). Things have changed. We have since made mission--the quota the Army has given a battalion like ours. In fact, we currently have the highest percentage in the division. Incentives for re-enlistment include: choice of duty station, re-classing one's speciality, monetary bonus (most seem to be between $5,000--$20,000), special school admission (Airborne, Air Assault, Mountain Warfare, etc.)--although Soldiers usually only have a choice of one of these. Soldiers are told by leaders that the ultimate incentive, however, is the job itself. They encourage Soldiers to re-enlist only if they enjoy what they do. Having been in their position before, I know how intimidating "life on the outside" can seem. One should never make a career or relationship choice because it seems safe. We too easily become institutionalized and cease choosing life. Unfortunately, it seems the attitude of seizing the day--the phrase and it's Latin origin (carpe diem) have only become cliche' because they're worth repeating--becomes more difficult the older we become. In my interactions with Soldiers, I try to influence them to take charge of their own lives; I try to encourage them to identify their values, set goals, and make plans. Few things are more satisfying than witnessing Soldiers make wise choices.

Recently, I joined my commander, LTC Silverman and Command Sergeant Major Sumner to visit the Soldiers of Bravo Company out at COP Aggressor. While there, Staff Sergeant Mott re-enlisted. The Colonel and Sergeant Major took the opportunity to talk to the Soldiers about their own careers and what trends they've witnessed. I regularly visit with Captain McCreary and First Sergeant Delgado--Bravo Company's chief leadership--about the welfare of their Soldiers. These leaders are not perfect, but their Soldiers respect them and know they have their best interest in mind. I am including pictures here of that early evening at Aggressor. 1LT Clinton, Bravo Company Executive Officer, re-enlisted SSG Mott. SSG(P) Rodriguez is pictured with 1SG Delgado discussing Soldier issues in the CP.

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