Here Comes the Drawdown
By Daniel Sloan For USMilitary.com
With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan steadily winding down?President Obama announced in his State of the Union address that 34,000 troops representing about half of U.S. forces deployed there will be withdrawn over the coming year?plus looming budget pressures, the temporary end strength authorizations that Congress legislated for the US Army and Marine Corps are at an end. It?s not exactly the 1990s all over again, but the bottom line is that fewer US Army jobs including troops and Marines will be needed or at least budgeted for) in the next few years. The Army expects to shed 60,000 soldiers in this drawdown.
Fewer US Army Jobs?
The first consequence is that reenlistment bonuses are coming down. Aside from the always-important-to-retain special operations personnel, who will still be eligible for bonuses of up to $90,000 (depending on length of reenlistment and rank), for the most part bonuses will be at the maximum $10,400. A tiny handful of Army jobs and military occupational specialties (MOSs) will qualify for amounts up to $22,500 at the highest level, which is an extension of at least five years for a staff sergeant or sergeant first class.
The US Army is doing its best, however, to avoid the involuntary separations seen during the post-Cold War force reductions. LTG Howard Bromberg, chief of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, expects that ?95% of the enlisted soldiers who want to reenlist will be eligible.? The only way to make that work, however, is reclassification for some. That means soldiers in occupational specialties that are overstrength may be required to find a new job if they want to remain in the Army.
At present no MOS is so overmanned that soldiers will be forced out of it. Usually only at manning levels approaching 180% are such steps required. Retention policies still permit commanders to make decisions to retain limited numbers of soldiers in overstrength MOSs so long as those soldiers are fully qualified.
However, in many cases a soldier will find it necessary to move to a new MOS in order to reenlist. This is one of those ?needs of the Army? situations, though soldiers have the choice of any understrength MOS for which they qualify. LTG Bromberg does not foresee a need to return to the Fast Track program, which ?voluntold? soldiers to move to a new MOS of the Army?s choice.
In addition, the Army has returned to the Qualitative Service Program (QSP). QSP is aimed specifically at senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who are at or near retirement eligibility. The QSP boards evaluate NCOs to determine their promotion potential and whether they should be retained. (This is when a relatively minor flaw in your record can be a career ender.) Depending on the soldier?s length of service retirement may be mandatory, or those with 15 to 18 years will qualify for separation under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA). Such early retirement generally comes with a year to a year and a half of advance notice. The point is to ?unclog? the promotion path in low-density MOSs, and only about 150 soldiers have been tagged for TERA so far.
Military Officer Jobs Too?
For military officers, however, it looks like it really will be a return to the 1990s. The 2013 defense bill resurrected some officer strength management tools from that era, including the Selective Early Retirement Board combined with a reduction (temporary, of course) in the three-year time-in-grade requirement for lieutenant colonels and colonels to be able to retire at that rank to two years. This waiver eases the process of retiring officers at these ranks. LTG Bromberg acknowledges that the Army already expects to involuntarily separate officers within the next 12 to 18 months, though he does not know how many yet.
Keep in mind that this is not a product of the sequestration or other budget debates. This is coming from the end strength reductions that have been coming for quite some time. What effects the mandatory cuts under sequestration might produce is a topic for another day.