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Army launches new incentives to quit active, join reserves

Guard and Reserve test new program for drawing active-duty soldiers

Feb. 17, 2014 - 08:18PM   |  
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Guardsmen operate at an urban terrain site. The Army National Guard and Army Reserve want to benefit from the experience that active-duty soldiers can bring with them when they leave the Army. (Army)
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Grass (Army)
Talley (Army)

If you're looking to leave active duty (or among the thousands getting the boot), the National Guard and Army Reserve want you.

If you're looking to leave active duty (or among the thousands getting the boot), the National Guard and Army Reserve want you.

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If you’re looking to leave active duty (or among the thousands getting the boot), the National Guard and Army Reserve want you.

If you need a little convincing, they’ll soon be offering some sweet new incentives, including:

Fat bonuses for soldiers with high-demand skills.

The chance to get out up to a year early.

■More opportunities to be a warrant officer.

Chances to retrain for a new job while still serving out your active-duty contract.

These benefits are part of a new pilot program the Guard and Reserve is soon launching, in coordination with the Army. It’s called the 365 AC to RC Pilot, and soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, will be the first to test it out. If successful, this could soon go Army-wide.

Timing of this program is essential, as the Army continues to shed 80,000 soldiers — with the potential to drop an additional 70,000.

The Guard and Reserve are not immune to cuts, although they so far have been spared from major ones.

The Guard is cutting 8,000 soldiers in the next two years, for an end strength of 350,200 by the end of fiscal 2015; the Reserve so far is holding at 205,000.

If deeper cuts are called for, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has testified on Capitol Hill that end strength should not drop below 420,000 in the active Army, 315,000 in the Guard and 185,000 in the Reserve.

Despite these possible reductions, the Guard and Reserve are stepping up their efforts to attract qualified and experienced transitioning soldiers to fill critical shortages in their ranks. They also want to lay the groundwork for promotion and leadership opportunities.

The push to recruit experienced soldiers is something Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Reserve and commanding general of Army Reserve Command, has emphasized.

“We’re going to have a lot of active-component soldiers that will leave active duty, and these are combat vets. These men and women are incredibly professional, incredibly sharp and talented,” Talley recently told Army Times. “This is a great opportunity for us to capture those soldiers to help fill our formations.”

The Reserve has a “lot of vacancies” at the midgrade noncommissioned officer ranks, said Sgt. Maj. Gary Martz, the senior enlisted soldier for the Reserve’s Human Capital Core Enterprise, which oversees all human resources issues within the component.

“Most of these soldiers that are going to be getting out [of the Army] are going to be E-4 and E-5 in grade, and that’s the specific target in skills and rank that we need most in the Army Reserve,” he said.

The Guard also is interested in recruiting and retaining troops coming off active duty, especially as the active component continues to downsize, said Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

“One of the concerns I have for the future is, are we going to be able to have opportunities for those Army and Air, Marines, Navy personnel coming off of active duty that want to continue to serve?” said Grass, who spoke Jan. 9 at the National Press Club. “Will we have opportunities to capitalize on their skills and get them into the Guard?”

Before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 50 percent of new Army Guard soldiers had prior military service, Grass said. As soldiers — both active and reserve — found themselves serving multiple deployments, fewer and fewer prior-service soldiers were choosing to serve in the Guard, he said.

Today, the number of new Guard soldiers with prior military service is only about 20 percent, Grass said.

“That’s very costly, because if we can bring in a trained soldier or airman … we save a lot of money and we’ve got experience there,” he said. “If we can shift that back closer to 50-50, that will be a big help for the future.”

Pilot program launch

Fort Hood will roll out the new pilot in late March, and the program will allow career counselors with the Guard and Reserve to engage with transitioning soldiers much sooner than they can now.

Before the pilot, these career counselors couldn’t formally engage or write contracts for transitioning troops until soldiers were six months from their separation date, Martz said.

“When you start doing backward planning, it doesn’t give soldiers and families a lot of time to make true, educated decisions about their future,” Martz said.

The pilot program allows the process to start up to one year before their separation date.

“That’s the main component of the pilot,” he said. “It gives the soldier additional time where they can contract out and they have a more predictable transition.”

The Guard was very interested in participating in the pilot, said Col. Rich Baldwin, the Army Guard’s G-1 (personnel).

“What the pilot does is pull that window open a little bit wider,” he said.

This gives soldiers more time to determine whether there is a vacancy matching their military occupational specialty in the area or community where they intend to live, he said. And if there isn’t, they have time to be trained in a new specialty.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in attracting the currently serving active-component soldier to the Guard is trying to match skill and grade to the area he thinks he’ll be moving to,” Baldwin said.

The soldier also will have more time to look for civilian employment, Baldwin said.

“Transitioning out of the active component is only half of the equation,” he said. “You still need to put food on the table.”

Bonuses forecast

It’s unclear how much the bonuses will be worth, but they are likely to be “more generous” than existing incentives, Martz said.

Both components nowoffer up to $20,000 for a six-year contract or up to $10,000 for a three-year commitment.

“To get a soldier with experience and all the tools necessary to come from the active [Army] and walk right into an Army Reserve unit, obviously that’s a lot of benefit to us,” he said.

It’s also unclear how long the pilot will last, but officials plan to study the results before making any decisions about expanding it, Martz said.

“The intent is to create an enduring program we can expand across the entire enterprise,” he said.

Col. Deb Hower, the deputy director of the Reserve’s Human Capital Core Enterprise, said there is an emphasis on speed.

“The Army’s moving faster on this because of the active-component drawdown,” she said. “We don’t want that population to disperse before we can transition them.”

The Army is working closely with the Guard and Reserve to make sure transitioning soldiers know about the opportunities in the reserve component, said Col. Charles Slaney, the reserve-component career counselors program manager at Human Resources Command.

The counselors, or RCCCs, are Guard and Reserve personnel, and they work closely with Army retention personnel, Slaney said.

There are 121 career counselors, in the ranks of E-7 through E-9, serving in 40 locations around the world, and they typically can be found at the local Army Career and Alumni Program, or ACAP, which works to transition soldiers who are retiring or at their expiration of term of service. There also are about eight who work at HRC.

Switching careers

A soldier preparing to leave active duty who decides to join the Guard or Reserve could receive MOS reclassification training, if necessary.

Examples of MOSs where the Reserve is critically short include:

■Military police (31B)

■Psychological operations (37F)

■Civil affairs specialist (38B)

■Healthcare specialist (68W)

■Automated logistical specialist (92A)

■Computer detection systems repairer (94F)

The Reserve will try to match reclassifying soldiers with civilian jobs with similar skill sets.

Hypothetically, an infantry soldier may want to join the Reserve but serve as a truck driver, Hower said.

The Reserve would give him that MOS training, and reach out to truck-driving companies across the country.

“Now he has a skill set that’s compatible with a potential civilian employer, as well as a skill set the Army Reserve needs,” Hower said. “And the soldier has the stability and predictability of a civilian career in a location where he’s settled into a reserve-component unit.”

With the pilot programs, soldiers going into certain MOSs will be able to get that reclassification training while they’re still on active duty, Martz said.

“Under the current process, the soldier would contract while they’re in the active Army, but they wouldn’t attend MOS training until they report to the reserve component,” he said. “That causes some inconvenience for the soldier and for their new civilian employer.”

Completing MOS training while the soldier is still on active duty not only saves time, but it also saves money, Martz said.

This incentive won’t be available for all MOSs, officials cautioned.

Early release

One key component of the pilot program will allow a soldier who’s leaving active duty with a civilian job and a Guard or Reserve contract to separate up to a year early, Hower said.

This expands on a recently implemented policy by Human Resources Command.

Under the HRC program, soldiers who have secured a civilian job and want to leave the Army before their ETS date can, with their commander’s approval, leave up to six months early, said James Bragg, chief of the retention and reclassification branch at Human Resources Command.

The keys to this program are the local commanders, Bragg said.

Soldiers who want to request earlier separation must go to their commander and show they have a job offer, Bragg said. The soldier also must show that leaving the Army early will not be detrimental or a financial burden on the soldier and his family, Bragg said.

Chance to go warrant

The pilot willalso feature a warrant officer board that will screen transitioning soldiers while they’re still on active duty, Hower said.

“This enables us to not give empty promises,” she said. “We can do a predetermination for soldiers who are interested in that career path, and they’ll know if they’ll be qualified for warrant officer candidacy.”

The Reserve is short about 800 warrant officers, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phyllis Wilson, the command chief warrant officer for the Reserve. That’s a shortfall of about 20 percent of the 4,000 warrant officers authorized in the Reserve, she said.

The component is seeking NCOs who are technically competent in their fields, eager to be leaders, and able to mentor and coach younger soldiers, Wilson said.

The Guard is also seeking more warrant officers, especially in fields such as:

■Air and missile defense (140A/E)

■Military intelligence (350F/G, 351L/M, 352N/S, 353T)

■Quartermaster (922A)

■Ordnance (890A).

The goal is to recruit more than 1,000 new warrant officer candidates, Guard officials said.

“If you’ve got a skill set we need in the warrant officer ranks, we’ll bring you in and send you to warrant officer candidate school and make you a warrant officer,” Baldwin said.

'Taking care of soldiers'

These programs are focused on soldiers and their families, Martz said.

“The Army leadership is concerned about soldiers and families as we reshape and draw down,” he said.

And while the Reserve wants to catch as many transitioning soldiers as possible, Martz said the component will still seek quality over quantity.

“There’s not going to be a compromise on quality of the soldiers,” he said. “We’re talking about soldiers that have been approved for continued service by their local commanders. The soldiers we will be getting will be soldiers that have experience and have a good performance file, and they’re going to be able to fill a lot of critical vacancies we have in the reserve component.”

Baldwin agreed, adding that it’s important for the Guard to retain the Army’s best and brightest.

“Both reserve components offer an opportunity to continue to serve the nation,” he said. “After the investment the nation has made, this gives them the opportunity to continue serving, and the Guard belongs to the governor of each state, so there is a state tie there that really does make you feel like you’re serving the citizens of your community when you’re wearing the uniform.”

Senior staff writer Jim Tice contributed to this report.

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