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No matter what the size of the Navy of the future, it will possess a technical complexity never before seen. The greatest obstacle to operating it effectively will be the problem of keeping the ships manned with the necessary skilled personnel. Whatever solutions are to be found will involve recruiting and retention.
Despite lavish attention since the inauguration of the all-volunteer force, recruiting has barely achieved its objectives. Now the nation shows a reluctance to continue present levels of support to a defense establishment that spends more than half its budget on manpower, and we are engaged in a great search for economies which too often take a toll in morale as they are perceived to erode benefits. To compound the problem, recruiting budgets are being cut, and the national pool of recruitable resources is shrinking. We eke out marginally sustaining numbers through increased use of women, civilians, and prior-service personnel.
Retention, for its part, has not achieved its objectives. Adequate retention, if it could be achieved, would solve the manpower problem and overcome the recruiting deficit as well. For a man retained is a recruit not needed. To achieve adequate retention, we must abandon the system which has disappointed a generation. Rather than endless hand wringing over depressing statistics, we must devise a new system better suited to both reality and our capabilities in the closing years of the 20th century. This article examines the merits of such a system.
The Problem: Maintaining the defenses of the United States, and by extension those of much of the free world, transcends our ability to build more and better weapons than our enemies. More than anything else, it is bound up in the willingness of people to devote their lives and talents to the task. So long as the issues which threaten world peace continue, Americans must live in the presence of wellarmed enemies who can strike this country in minutes with devastating force or in remote places in
piecemeal fashion. Compared with other peaceful intervals in our history, we must now maintain relatively large standing forces of exceptionally competent and well-trained people. Even a speedy peacetime mobilization of an alarmed populace such as that which inducted almost a million men in the year preceding 7 December 1941 will not serve us. Instead, we must build our defenses in ways that are compatible with the long-term needs of people so that they can make career-long commitments to
military service in the numbers needed in peace as well as war.
If we are to improve our retention posture, we must build on the needs of the individual. So far, with the aid of many measures to improve the attractiveness of military life, including substantial pay in creases, we have managed to recruit quality young people in approximately the required overall num bers. Overall numbers are deceptive, however, since they can give a gross impression of well-being whi e severe internal imbalances exist. The fire control rating is illustrative. It appears to be healthy since the Navy has more men assigned to it than there are bi - lets to be filled. But the great preponderance of these people are first-term enlistees who are either in the training pipeline or are relative novices in the Pr0" ductive work force. The middle pay grades, whic require leadership and work supervision, are irl adequately filled. Under the retention schemes the Navy has traditionally used—if the experience of the past 30 years is any indicator—they will never be filled. The complexity of modern weaponry is sue that, in order to ensure the presence of competent technical expertise, the Navy has for years used civil ian contract engineers on board deployed ships to n the middle and upper enlisted pay grade deficit m various ratings. These contract engineers are many times more expensive than the career technicians they replace, but the trained and experienced enliste members simply aren’t available.
Until the draft ended in mid-1973, the arrne forces did not have to attract men to the tasks o national defense. Whether drafted outright or impelled to enlist by the expectation of being drafte , manpower was available in sufficient numbers to meet our needs. There was, however, a great deal o foot-dragging attending that procedure, and when the initial period of required service was over, most of these trained and increasingly productive men yielded their posts to recruit replacements as they returned home. Of course, they didn’t have to go, an not all of them did. Reenlistment was, and continues to be. the only wav to build an enlisted military
Reenlistment has not been successful as a means o maintaining the Navy’s desired manning strength m peacetime for at least three reasons. These are: y The size of the forces we are obliged to maintain year after year ► Economic prosperity
y The complexity of modern weapons that has required the extensive training of our best enliste people in skills which are highly salable to industry The reenlistment problem has been the uncracke
n^t in the military manpower problem for a quarter ?. a century, and despite repeated attempts at the *ghest levels of government, it remains unsolved.
The Target Zone: The first-term enlisted man is the ey to the resolution of the retention problem over- a^> for without his first reenlistment there can be no ?*reer retention later. What sort of individual is he?
bile a clear picture cannot be presented without e*tensive research, two characteristics would appear to be most important. They are age and experience, a°d here some assumptions must be made.
Recruiting concentrates on the nation’s high Scho°l product. That we are continuously supplied ^'th statistics on the percentages of recruits who ave and have not graduated is evidence of this fact. 0r purposes of discussion, therefore, it would seem aPpropriate to credit the average volunteer with an a8e of about 19 years. This would result in a separa- P°n age of 23 at the end of a four-year enlistment.
bese projections are consistent with the author’s experience and can be verified in any case. And what of experience? There was a time—when the nation was ^ore agrarian and laws regarding employment prac- f'ces less stringent—that a person of 19 years could e expected to have some work experience under his e*t and a concomitant measure of maturity deriving
from it. Today, the demise of the family farm or business as a ready work place—combined with extensive government regulations affecting the employment of young people, among which the minimum wage law is prominent—has deprived large segments of American youth of even the opportunity to work. This is particularly true of those who complete high school and whom we so assiduously seek to recruit. It is further reinforced in the ghetto and among the ethnic minorities from which we draw increased numbers of recruits and where unemployment rates are much higher than those in the country at large. Indeed, it would appear that many individuals have their first taste of self-sufficiency when they take the initial oath of enlistment.
A New Approach: It has been suggested that a major impediment to enlisted retention is reenlistment itself. In order to continue his career, an individual must commit himself to protracted terms of indentured service at regular intervals, thereby restricting his personal freedom. This choice is placed before the first-termer at a time in his life when he is young, restless, energetic, untried (in his own mind), and for the most part unfettered with family duties. While he may have a measure of satisfaction
and fulfillment in his first term of service, he is unwilling to wager his freedom of action against the probability that the satisfaction and fulfillment will continue. Those who have not found these qualities are unwilling to gamble that they will.
As an alternative, we might do well to induct new recruits under terms of an indefinite or open-ended enlistment contract in order to avoid the need for reenlistment. Under such a contract the recruit would obligate himself to serve the same initial term of service as is now required, but the responsibility for terminating the contract—to resign in effect would fall to the individual rather than to the government. This freedom to resign should lapse only during periods of war or national emergency declared by the president. To be specific, recruits should be inducted under a four-year active duty contract allowing them to resign with one year’s notice any time after their third anniversaries, barring war or a presidentially declared national emergency. The concept is no more complicated than that.
Retention is bound to gain from any procedure which makes this action discretionary, especially when the suggested new procedure is designed to take advantage of the human capacity to procrastinate. The practical effect of one day’s delay by each enlisted member of a nominal half-million-man Navy would be 342 new four-year enlistments, but in this case each “recruit” would already be trained to the journeyman level and established in his military working niche.
Some Observations on Human Behavior: If an indefinite enlistment contract offers itself as a truly valid solution to the retention problem, then it should be
at least arguable that it will satisfy some basic hum needs. That it is desirable is really not open to question; were it otherwise we should expect to >n term-of-service contracts in widespread use in in us try and certainly among officers. The plain fact is that people, in contriving conventions within whic to conduct their affairs, tend to retain for themse ves the greatest possible freedom of action. Indeed, t e enlistment contract is merely an expression of t >s^ for it was not designed by the person to whom it 1 applied, but by those who control him.
It seems axiomatic that the more people associate with each other under conditions of equality—and as they come to share values—the more cohesive an contented they become as a group. Consider the con dition of the first-term enlisted person who is learn ing an occupation in an equitable work situation Objective indicators seem to point to a state of c°n^ tentment with the naval experience. The indicator^ include such things as opinion polls of Navy vete ^ ans, the number of service reunions that occur, an
the fact that servicemen, in question-and-answer ses^ sions, seem commonly to be more concerned wit perquisites than with issues affecting their immediate work situations. The tendency of people to find secu rity in group identity and cohesiveness is as old as the human race, and we ought to take advantage o it, insofar as an individual’s service associations are concerned. But this is more easily said than done, because people characteristically associate themselves with more than one group. The first-termer may e expected, perhaps more romantically than really, t0 retain strong ties of membership to a hometown group of family and friends. It seems probable that i he is forced to make a career decision which amounts in his mind to permanent rejection of the latter, he will move to escape this emotional cross fire by opting in the direction of the strongest felt group ties- Reenlistment rates tell us what this is. If reenlistment were not required, an individual could avoi this conflict until ready to resolve it on his own terms. It may be that time itself would provide the solution since intuition tells us the more cross pressures a person feels, the later a decision will be made. When loyalties pull in different directions, it is harder to decide than when all pressures go in the same direction. If it is possible, most people find it easy and even justifiable to put matters off altogether. The application of the open-ended enlistment contract in this situation should be obvious. °r the person approaching the end of an enlistment, th opportunity to delay a shipping-over decision works in favor of a career. Some years ago, a study was made of 9,000 men in recruit training.
The findings which bear on retention are particu- arly interesting. The 9,000 were polled at regular •ntervals during their first enlistments regarding their career intentions.* They were asked whether tley intended to reenlist, were undecided, or intended to leave the Navy. The results showed that surveys taken late in the period were more accurate *n reflecting what actually happened than those taken
earlier and that a larger number of men remained in the avy than the proportion who stated they intended to teenlist. In the final survey of the series, made at e three-and-a-half-year point of the initial four-year erdistment, 312 men declared for reenlistment whereas 554 actually remained on board. That means there were at least 242 fence sitters who made deci- s,ons within six months of the end of their first enfistment. More important than demonstrating our Capacity for indecision, however, is the observation the decision being of the either/or variety, there tOust have been 242 more fence sitters who opted to 8et out. There is a strong suspicion that if these y°ung men had not been forced to a decision, the Navy might have retained 554 plus 242 or 796 satis- led (and satisfactory) members. Other factors which Can only be guessed about, such as peer pressure, oubtless take additional tolls when people are forced c° declare themselves on terms other than their own.
In commenting on human behavior, there is the Matter of enforced memberships. It makes no matter chat an indentured condition is the result of one’s °'Vn choosing. When withdrawal is not permitted, there is likely to be a high rate of rejection as the lr>itial attractions become commonplace. It is appro-
John M. Proctor, Studies in Career Motivation (Bureau of Naval Personnel "technical Bulletin 63-6) Washington: Department of the Navy, 1963.
priate here to reflect upon an assumption made at the outset that the typical volunteer is without substantial experience in the work force. For all of the purposefulness and direction that the armed services are able to provide—and which in later life will be recognized as key factors in the first-termer’s maturation process—he is not likely to perceive their value at the time. Instead, he more probably has a sense of being restrained in a world of opportunity, a world circumstances have prevented him from adequately exploring. Given the youthful characteristics of restlessness, energy, and perhaps a sense of adventure, we may confidently expect what we are, in fact, experiencing: a rate of rejection of service in the armed forces exceeding that which is good for the country as
a whole. If this observation is accurate, it is at once a paradox that these admirable qualities should be the very ones that impede the attainment of fully manned and stable ranks. These youthful characteristics are facts of life; they will not go away, nor should we want them to. What we do need to do is adopt conditions of service which minimize the opportunities for conflict between the aspirations of service members and the nation’s needs.
Management Aspects: One may legitimately ask why military organizations specify periods of service in enlistment contracts. In researching the practice, surprisingly little material is found; it seems to have been accepted since writing first appeared. Armies have been known since before 3000 B.C. In their earliest form they were little more than armed bands held together by community ties, and each member
was known to all the others. From this emerged the lord-serf relationship of feudal society, the small armies of city-states, and the national armies and navies of the modern era. These armies and navies originally took the form of impressed or hired troops whose loyalty was open to serious question. Since the motive to serve which is born of national' loyalties or of devotion to a cause was commonly lacking, it would have been an easy matter for a man to decide to desert, particularly in view of the political disunity and lack of communications of the time. Thus, it seems logical that the administrator, desiring to compel allegiance, began to devise some instrument to specify the period of service which could be used coercively to ensure continued service, to legalize requests for the remanding of deserters, and to legitimize the going equivalent of military justice upon their return.
To be sure, reenlistment for a specified period facilitates the administration of the armed forces, since force level predictions can be made from records of existing enlistments. But isn’t this a matter of convenience, and are we not guilty of retaining a system which may be outmoded simply for the luxury of convenience? By sacrificing some of this luxury would we not avoid or at least diminish several problems of far greater significance than inconvenience—those of recruiting, training, retention and morale? Do we not possess the computational and data management tools to accomplish these ends?
Before embarking upon a large-scale program with indefinite enlistments, it would be necessary to test the thesis that reenlistment is indeed an obstacle to retention. This could be accomplished with a pilot program to enlist a representative number of new recruits into the regular Navy under open-ended terms. The group should be large enough to satisfy the requirements of statistical researchers, should be drawn from every part of the country, and should be well distributed in active duty assignments. Recruiting should be distributed over time to prevent concentration of these people in the training centers. All persons recruited in such a pilot program should be typical of the average recruit we can expect to get in the future. Assuming that the characteristics of people who are now volunteering will be those of future volunteers, the data needed to identify the average recruit are already available. Traits which would seem to be appropriate for inclusion are age, education, marital status, work experience, and personal or family income bracket in civilian life. Other equally important indicators may also be identified. The present enlistment contract should be used in its
entirety except for suitable modification to cover t e new conditions for termination. The confirmation o enlistment should be modified to provide for a four year enlistment subject to termination by the enlistee any time after the third anniversary. He would do so by submitting notification of intent to terminate t e enlistment in one year. In effect, from his third an niversary on, the recruit would always be within one year of separation. The length of the notificatio interval stated here is arbitrary and subject to a - justment.
Won’t this derail some other programs now in op* eration? What about the selected reenlistment bonus, reenlistment leave, reassignment options, and specia education programs? Won’t the open-end enlistee see himself losing out on these and become disaffecte anyway? The answer is “no.” Funds used for the reenlistment bonus should continue to be paid, but under some more appropriate name, such as continuance pay. Such payments could be made on selected service anniversaries phased throughout the career to meet the needs of more senior men. Here it is worth commenting that the number of Navy second-term reenlistments is currently well below historical and desired levels and has shown a downward trend. The use of the equivalent of reenlistment leave, reassignment options, and other programs should also be considered. Again, the very nature o the indefinite enlistment provides flexibility not heretofore available in timing these offerings. The indefinite enlistee should be required to meet present
service obligations associated with all schools and special programs for which he is eligible. This means c at, should he be assigned to a school for which the term of instruction plus obligated service exceeds one year, he would agree beforehand to serve until these two periods were elapsed.
The argument that an indefinite enlistment will eep more men voluntarily in uniform than our preset policy is not to say that reenlistment is bad or c at it ought to be totally abolished. We know that s°me men will reenlist; the problem is wholly con- C^rned with how many. For this reason every practic- a le inducement to reenlistment should be retained *n order to satisfy the goals of those who desire to do f0' ^or one thing, the reenlistee could receive larger onus payments sooner than the “continuee” because !re former’s future service would be more certain, his might appeal to the man who has a special need °r more money at the moment. Other benefits could e presented with some margin of advantage in favor 0 the reenlistees, such as priority in assignment to service schools or preference in reassignments over eontinuees who have the same objectives. The practiCal effect of this could well be that some of the rat- lngs requiring fewer people could be fully manned by ferm-of-service enlistees. Care would have to be taken, however, to see that the interests of con- tinuees are not seriously subverted since they would e in a position to make their feelings known.
A particular advantage of the indefinite enlistment Is rhe moral one the government gains in time of national emergency. The “understandings” of the ^nlistment contract currently in use by the armed °rces state “. . . in time of war or national emer- 8ency, or when otherwise authorized by law, [the enlistee] shall be required to serve as ordered by competent authorities . . .,” and they further refer to the authority of the president to declare national emergency and to the authority of the Congress to eclare both war and national emergency. In today’s world it is easy to imagine simultaneous crises in re- m°te places which, if met with available forces, w°uld spread them very thin indeed. Reactivating che draft would be a slow remedy. Calling up the reserves is quicker but is politically onerous. Freezing SeParations is easily the fastest and most efficient course of action and has been employed in the past.
reezing separations would be more palatable to a man serving in an indefinite enlistment than it ^ould to one in a fixed-term enlistment. Unless he as acted at his first opportunity to serve notice, he as already begun conditioning himself to the idea of a career. A psychological wedge is already in place, ince he has not had the mental conditioning of liv
ing with a clearly defined date before him, he should be more disposed to accept an arbitrary extension than he otherwise would have been. The gain is in morale.
Further considerations: If the open-ended or indefinite enlistment could provide unqualified relief to the military manpower problem, a listing of its benefits would read like the millenium arrived. Practicality warns us that this is unlikely. Yet we must not be deterred from exploring every avenue in our search for relief from what is now a degenerative situation. In analyzing the pros and cons, there emerge some nagging questions which refuse easy categorization.
One question has to do with the long-term effects of greater autonomy for military members as a whole. If those who have completed their initial terms of service obligation are to be free to set their own end-of-service dates, is there a danger of concerted action by coordinated resignation for purposes not in the larger interest? Would we not be taking a step toward the bargaining power brought up in the recent national discussion on military unions? For the open-ended enlistment contract as envisioned here will be a liberalizing measure which would grant some leverage to the affected party, exclusive of periods of war or national emergency. A military population dissatisfied with policies affecting it broadly could make its feelings felt more tangibly than is now possible. This would not amount to anything like collective bargaining, however, and in the sense that it would constitute improved communication and an added feedback channel may be counted an advantage in normal circumstances. Whether its long-run effect would be to fuel or defuse sentiment toward unionization of the armed forces is problematical. A variant of the question asks whether it might have the long-term effect of casting the military more in the image of the civil service. Although the missions of the military establishment and the civil service are now distinct, is it likely that they would become blurred in time through a long series of decisions, accommodations, and adjustments which are now too obscure to be foreseen but which may later be shown to have begun with the indefinite enlistment contract?
A key feature of this concept involves the power to declare national emergencies. The past practice of dealing with de facto emergencies in business-as-usual ways would seem to be put to the test if military members, seeing conflict in the offing, were free to choose not to attend. For a president or Congress would have to act early in every emergency situation involving the likelihood of conflict in order to stanch a predictable outflow of personnel. What is the chance of some future executive or legislature being unwilling to act, perhaps for political reasons? There are no definitive answers to these questions. For the short term, however, a suitably long notification period, such as the proposed year, would appear to be the best insurance against surprise while the longer term effects work themselves out.
Quite apart from the gains in retention which would accrue is the advantage that the new system would provide in measuring leadership. For all the attention given to this vital military trait, its assessment among officers and supervisory enlisted personnel remains a matter of subjective evaluation on the part of their superiors over long periods of time. The adoption of the open-ended enlistment contract offers, as one of its by-products, an added tool in the elusive field of objective leadership evaluation. A ship or activity whose men are willing to forfeit tenure at a rate disproportionate to the average, other things being equal, should be suspect.
Summary: The top-priority objective of the Chief of Naval Operations and of our fleet commanders is the improvement of fleet readiness—readiness to execute the Navy’s mission to conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea against hostile, determined, and ready enemies. In time, the balanced use of manpower, money, and material can close any readiness gap. Of these three, the one we seem increasingly unable to apply is manpower. It can be neither purchased nor commanded but is dependent upon voluntary participation alone. Marginal recruiting, inadequate retention, and an imminent decline in re- cruitable resources in the face of an acknowledged need to increase the size of the Navy are ominous.
The notion of an open-ended enlistment contract is not new. Its beginnings go back to the early sixties at least—probably much farther. Its adoption has
not been pursued for the very sound reason that it has far-reaching and little understood implications o which some have been touched upon. These induce the law of the land, political considerations, impact on other services, and a fear that keeping track o personnel strengths and of making projections of u ture strength and requirements would be unmanageable. With our burgeoning capability to manage information we may have reached a point where this last can be properly dealt with, however.
Because of these and other extenuating consi - erations, it has been prudent to exhaust every means
to improve retention within the well-understoo framework now employed. But they have, indee been exhausted. As a result, the time has come to begin a serious examination of an alternative better suited to the 1980s and beyond. It is an alternative which we possess the technology to manage, whic more nearly matches the perceived needs of the young people we wish to recruit and retain, anc which appears to be an essential companion to another bold initiative in an era of concern for the nation’s security, that of the all-volunteer force.
0 Since graduating from the Naval Academy in 1950' Captain Elliott has served in the Atlantic Fleet as junior officer in the heavy cruiser Salem (CA-139). aS staff officer with Commander Cruiser Division Four* and as commanding officer of the guided-missile cruiser Albany (CG-10). Pacific Fleet assignments have been & the destroyers Ernest G. Small (DDR-838) and Marsha (DD-676), USS PC-1170, the guided-missile frigate Coontz (DLG-9)^ guided-missile cruiser Galveston (CLG-3), and as commanding officer the guided-missile destroyer Joseph Strauss (DDG-16). Shore assignments have included graduation from the Naval Postgraduate School and Army War College, duty with the Naval Ordnance Systems Command ^ weapon system manager for the Talos missile, and the office of the Ch«e of Naval Operations where he was assigned to the Surface Combat Sy$ terns Division. Since May 1976, Captain Elliott has been commanding officer of the Naval Ship Weapon Systems Engineering Station, P°ft Hueneme, California.
All in the Family
Driving outside of San Diego, I picked up a very young sailor. When he told me he was on his way to see his dad, I asked how his father felt about his joining the Navy. “He’s rea pleased. In fact, he talked me into joining,” he replied. I asked if his father was an ex-Navy man? “No, he’s still in the Navy. He’s the recruiting officer in my home town,” he said.
Henry E. Leabo
(The Naval Institute will pay $25.00 for each anecdote published in the Proceedings.)