J.O. Retention: Survey Those Who Leave

Lieutenant G. Graham Van Hook, U.S. Navy

When officers resign from the Navy, the only way for them to communicate their reasons for leaving is in their resignation letters. These letters are read by a handful of officers at Navy Personnel Command, who scan them, looking for key words, to ensure the officer’s reason for resignation is not going to cause a congressional inquiry. No information is extracted or tracked systematically. In addition, any data that might be found in those letters may be hard to quantify and distill into useful information. The retention information gap could be corrected easily by developing a mandatory survey for those resigning. Such a survey should be a formal part of the check-out process, and it would allow the Navy to capture data on every officer transitioning out. This data could be analyzed to provide accurate insights into why people are leaving—drawn from the junior officer population that is leaving. Such a survey should remain constant from year to year to accurately capture trends and provide historical benchmarks.

In addition, the Navy should survey individuals who left the Navy before reaching the 20-year point and currently are working in the private sector. Insights could be gained from those who left the Navy 5, 10, even 15 years ago, exploring veteran experiences in the civilian sector.  Answers to questions such as “Why did you leave?” and “What has the civilian sector provided that the Navy could not?” could further guide retention efforts.

It is time for the Navy to stop reacting to anecdotes about “millennials” and survey junior officers about why they are leaving or why they left. Armed with that data, the Navy could address junior officer retention in a meaningful way.


Lieutenant Van Hook is a surface warfare officer assigned as the operations officer on board the USS  Arleigh Burke  (DDG-51). He is a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and he holds a master’s of science degree from the University of Arkansas and a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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