FORT MEADE, Maryland
For the fourth year in a row, the regular Army's retention rate is over 80% after it recently hit its targeted goal five months early this year.
At least 82% of eligible Soldiers have already reenlisted in fiscal year 2019, as historical highs among reenlistments continue, according to the senior Army career counselor.
"Retention rates being so high tells us many things, mainly that Soldiers are happy with their jobs and serving their country," said Sgt. Maj. Mark Thompson. "We understand that Soldiers 'talk with their feet.' If they're happy, they stay. If they're unhappy, they leave. The great news is, Soldiers are choosing to stay in record numbers."
The regular Army's fiscal 2019 retention mission was 50,515 Soldiers, but now at least 50,910 Soldiers of the assigned mission have been retained. Thompson believes it is the fastest the Army has made its retention mission.
In fiscal 2018, the Army accomplished the highest reenlistment rate in its history by achieving a 92% rate without lowering any standard.
The momentum is attributed to a variety of factors. Career counselors and leadership engagement has continued from last fiscal year to the current one, allowing the Army to achieve its mission ahead of schedule. In addition, the Army has offered a variety of incentives and bonuses for Soldiers eligible for reenlistment, he said.
The Army has also expanded assignment options by increasing stabilization and stations of choice for Soldiers. These options have assisted with the increased retention rates, along with an emphasis on the quality of life for Soldiers and their families. In addition to location options, educational benefits are another big factor.
"Families are taken care of through a variety of options such as transferring the GI Bill to qualifying dependents, which equates to four years of college," Thompson said. "These benefits can also be split between children. For example, two years of benefits can be split between two children. That is a significant amount of money depending on where the child or spouse goes to school."
To transfer benefits, Soldiers must have completed at least six years of qualifying service and agree to serve four more years.
More than 15,000 regular Army Soldiers take advantage of this incentive on a yearly basis.
"Retention bonuses are also a big perk, with many bonuses ranging from a thousand to $72,000 depending on the career field," he said. "The financial gap is broken down based off the Soldier's [military occupational specialty], but also skill and grade.
"Basically, whatever their job is, or the job they're going to reclassify or retrain into, all factors into their retention bonus."
The bonuses are also based on the needs of the Army, with mid-to-senior grade noncommissioned officers often more vital due to experience and knowledge. However, depending on MOS, initial-level Soldiers may be offered a larger bonus.
Some of the highest bonuses are in the intelligence career field, where they can range from $17,000 for a private first class to $72,000 for a staff sergeant or sergeant first class. Special Forces and cyber operations also offer large bonuses.
"Cyber operations specialist has become increasingly vital to the Army mission," Thompson said. "We know certain skills can transfer to the civilian marketplace, so we offer them incentives to stay in the Army. Like any company, we must remain competitive to ensure we keep the most talented Soldier serving in the right job, in the right place."
Retention numbers are based on Soldiers who are eligible to reenlist, which requires passing physical training scores and not being flagged for adverse actions.
On any given year, he said, roughly 70% of Soldiers within a reenlistment window meet this criteria.
"We have maintained a high standard for our Soldiers," he said. "But, we wouldn't have been able to close the retention gap early without our high-quality career counselors at all levels working with Soldiers every day.
"Career counselors have their 'finger to the pulse' of the organizations they represent, by knowing what the Soldier's needs are, and how to educate them on the Army's benefits."
Counselors help Soldiers see the value of the Army and their service within it, he said, adding they also counsel them to determine their eligibility as well as future career options.
"Hitting goals five months early is indicative of the hard work by career counselors," he said, "and how they listen to Soldiers and help them understand the benefits of continued service."