Staff Sgt. Michael Martinez motivates a poolee in the delayed entry program. (Sgt. Scott Schmidt/Marine Corps)
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A new study analyzing the economy’s effect on military recruiting and retention found that washout rates across the services improve when prospective troops spend more time in delayed entry programs.
With the economy struggling in recent years, the military has enjoyed a healthy recruiting environment. As a result, many would-be soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have spent upwards of a year working with their recruiters to prepare for boot camp.
Recruiters say this allows them to ship a stronger product, that the extra time means they can better prepare young men and women for the rigors of recruit training. The study, conducted by CNA’s Center for Naval Analyses and published late last year, concluded that the benefit extends well beyond boot camp, however. Researchers say lower attrition rates can be seen up to two years after newly minted troops hit the fleet.
“The longer you spend in the delayed entry program, the lower your in-service attrition ends up being,” said Jeffrey Peterson, a retired Marine colonel who now works as a research scientist with CNA. “And that’s a stable finding across all of the services.”
CNA’s study was requested by the Defense Department. Officials who oversee accession policy sought to understand how delayed entry programs were affected by the relatively smooth recruiting environment that accompanied the country’s economic downturn.
For one thing, the extra time gives candidates a chance to determine whether military service is right for them, said Anita Hattiangadi, research team leader of CNA’s Marine Corps Manpower team. So not only do the services get people who are committed, those who may be unsure of their decision can opt out before they get to boot camp.
“It’s a benefit to the service,” she said, “because you’re not paying for them to go through training and wash out in the process.”
That has heightened importance during wartime, Peterson added, because recruiters must be able to spot someone with challenges before putting them in uniform. That becomes easier when you’re working together over a period of several months versus several weeks.
The troubled economy, Peterson said, has been advantageous to recruiters. If poolees don’t attend physical training sessions as often as they should, they have the luxury of being able to cut them loose.
“In other times, when recruiters were strapped to find youngsters, they might accommodate a certain amount of silliness,” he said. “Not happening today. If you’re difficult to manage and lead as a DEP member, you might not be there much longer because there’s a line of qualified youngsters who are waiting to go to recruit training.”
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