Army Hits Re-Enlistment Targets

Rowan Scarborough reports some counterintuitive news:

Army divisions that fought the past 12 months in Iraq have met virtually every re-enlistment goal, a sign that the all-volunteer force remains strong under the stress of frequent deployments and hazardous duty.

The Pentagon has been closely monitoring the re-up rate for five Army divisions that fought in Iraq for about a year. Some officials feared the time away from home and the gritty duty would prompt a large soldier exodus. After all, the war on terrorism is unchartered territory. The 30-year-old volunteer Army has never been this busy in combat.

But numbers compiled this week for the first half of fiscal 2004 show that those five combat units met, or nearly met, all retention targets for enlisted soldiers — the privates, corporals and sergeants who total 416,000 of the Army’s 490,000 active force.

“This tends to rebut armchair critics who said the sky is falling and the vultures are circling and the Army is gong to lose all its troops,” said Lt. Col. Franklin Childress, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. “This is not true. The soldiers get it.”

Frankly, I’ve long been among the “armchair critics” on this one. Logically, one wouldn’t think that soldiers would continue to volunteer for hazardous duty and near-constant deployment to places they’ve never heard of at great cost to families. And one would think this doubly true of reservists who, by definition, aren’t military professionals first and foremost. Time and again over the past decade-plus, though, the facts prove that logic wrong. Indeed, it is almost always the case that units that deployed have higher retention rates than those that don’t. The only thing one can conclude is that, contrary to the idea that most of these folks are in it for free college and other benefits, most soldiers not only know what they’re signing up for but they actually want to do it.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Terrorism, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Beldar says:

    Again, and again, and again, our men and women in the military (including, definitely, the Reserves) amaze and astonish me. I am proud of them, beyond my capacity of finding the words to express it.

  2. Jem says:

    I think the underestimated factor is esprit de corps. I left the active duty Air Force after a little over 10 years of service. It was a very difficult decision for me, even though I knew that if I stayed in, it would probably end my marriage. And I missed active duty very badly for the first few years I was out–I felt awful about leaving, as though I’d “abandoned my troops”.

    Perhaps my most fulfilling assignment during my active duty time was the 4 1/2 months I spent in Saudi Arabia in 1997-98. I was working 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week most of the time, but I felt like I was contributing to something far grander than myself. If I’d been offered an opportunity to extend for a year, I’d probably have taken it and then tried to convince my wife not to leave me.

    Ironically, my recall to active duty from the Reserves after 9/11 (I spent a year at the Pentagon) seems to have been good medicine in that regard. For the most part, I was underutilized during that year and felt “far from the action”. I’m still in the Reserves, but no longer feel that the military is my calling.

    Of course, if I got orders for Afghanistan or Iraq, I wouldn’t try to evade the call. I guess pride in purpose is one of the hallmarks of a professional military–at least when it retains respectful appreciation from most Americans.

  3. Paul says:

    I’ve never been convinced this is counterintuitive.

    When they interview a soldier who was just injured in battle what do they almost all universally say??? — That they can’t wait to get back with their unit.

    OK maybe I get the “counterintuitive” part but lemme say it this way… I’m not sure why it is surprising.

  4. akim says:

    Hate to tar the good mood, but there is this link with an overtly lefty slant of course, but who knows what’s behind it, so I’ll bring it to your attention. Perhaps it points to a more realistic picture:

    James might be right to wonder how come.

  5. Tom Wobker says:

    I have a kid who’s a junior NCO in the Army. He is presently rotating home after a year in the Tikrit area.

    He says several senior NCO’s in his unit decided not to re-up because of the likelihood of accelerating overseas assignments.

    I spent four years in uniform myself, and agree these reported retention results seem counterintuitive.

    But then again this news may be happy talk. Certainly it is superficial.

    It would be more meaningful information if we were told:

    1) how these present targets relate to those targets that were established for a number of preceding years (lowered target numbers perhaps?);

    2) how these most recent results relate numerically to results achieved for prior year targets;

    3) what the results were for each pay grade (are we losing the important senior NCO contingency?)