Bad economy good for Army re-enlistment

When the working class and poor are deprived of educational and economic opportunities, the military is seen as the only alternative.  This is called the “Poverty Draft”.  As described in the article below from the Honolulu Advertiser, this pressure for the poor to join the military has become worse with the current economic crisis.   Meanwhile, this other article about a Hawai’i based soldier killed in Iraq appeared on the same day.

January 6, 2009

Army re-enlistments high

With tough economy, many soldiers are coming back for more

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Repeat deployments and a healthier economy made it more difficult in recent years for the Army to retain quality soldiers. The recession may be changing that.

Hawai’i’s Stryker brigade of about 4,300 soldiers is at almost 100 percent re-enlistment for two of its battalions in Iraq, with the other four at between 70 percent and 75 percent, said spokesman Maj. Al Hing.

Hing said re-enlistments are at record rates.

The brigade commander’s goal was 80 percent before the unit returns to Hawai’i in February and March. Hing said there is a “very strong retention rate for the young company grade officers” at 94 percent.

Even as the huge re-enlistment bonuses of years past dwindle, soldiers and officers are finding reason to stay in – or return.

Lindsey Rowland made a deal with her parents: They would approve of her going into the Army – which she wanted to do – if she went to college first.

Rowland went to Hawai’i Pacific University on an ROTC scholarship, was commissioned a second lieutenant in 2005, received an assignment to Germany, and in October returned from 15 months in Kuwait and Iraq.

Now a first lieutenant, Rowland, who is not exactly warriorlike at 5 feet 2 and 120 pounds, has experienced the rigors of combat. But like an increasing number of enlisted soldiers and officers who see what shape the economy is in, she’s pretty much made the decision to re-up for at least three more years after her first four.

The truth is, she doesn’t want to get out – at least not yet.

It doesn’t matter that Rowland probably won’t receive the $35,000 bonus that was offered for her specialty in each of the last two years, but may be gone now.

The huge re-enlistment bonuses that the Army needed to dole out to keep up its numbers now are dropping as the economy worsens and more soldiers are staying in with fewer bonuses.

A reduction of the violence in Iraq and a drawdown of the mission there also have led to optimism that soldiers can spend more time at home between deployments.

Although the 27-year-old Rowland was based in Kuwait, she spent more time in Iraq, providing security escort for convoys in a Humvee gun truck with a transportation company.

The more soldiers are on the road, the more danger they face.

But as a single soldier without kids to worry about back home, she didn’t mind being deployed, misses being in command of four Humvees and 11 other soldiers, and expects to be back in Iraq or Afghanistan in the future.

“We had a really cool mission,” Rowland said by phone from Germany. “For females and for transportation, doing gun truck missions on the road was really cool.”

personal benefits

For reasons that are different for each soldier, Rowland may be representative of a bit of a reversal of fortune for the Army and its retention of soldiers.

Eventually, she said she’d like to be a journalist outside the Army, “but I’m not quite ready to do that yet – especially with the economy.”

The Army has seen the return of nearly 500 Army officers who left the service during the past year, Army Times reported.

Not all were eligible for retention incentives, so career security and military benefits are seen as possible factors.

Recruiting also is up. The Army for fiscal 2008 exceeded its recruiting goal, signing up more than 169,500 men and women, and the Army and the Marines – which do the bulk of the ground fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – surpassed recruitment goals early in fiscal 2009, which began in October.

The Army has in the past worried about the quality of its recruits and an exodus of midlevel officers.

“I have a really optimistic look about it. I think the Army is changing for real this time, and I think a lot of the officers are staying in and I think leadership is improving,” Rowland said. “The Army has adapted to the idea that they can offer the people that work in the Army the things they want – as in duty locations, money, schools.”

bonuses dropping

However, Army Times said re-enlistment bonuses are dropping sharply in 2009 as retention programs enjoy unprecedented success and fewer specialties are being targeted with the extra payments.

Rowland doesn’t think the $35,000 bonus will be available to her that had been offered in the past to transportation officers being promoted to captain, a rank she soon expects to make.

Rowland figures she spent more time in Iraq than in Kuwait where she was based because of the convoy security missions – the same mission that many Hawai’i National Guard soldiers have now.

A soldier in her unit was killed when a shaped charge hit his Humvee, and Rowland separately experienced a small roadside bomb that went off near her Humvee. “It really wasn’t that exciting,” she said. “Blew up smoke. That was it.”

Mostly, the security missions did not encounter enemy fire, she said, and the only time the turret gunner’s .50-caliber machine gun was fired was when an oncoming bus wouldn’t stop. Warning shots were fired near the bus.

Rowland, who is from Ohio, wants to go to an Army language school to learn Turkish. She expects she’ll be deployed several more times to a combat zone if she stays in.

That’s OK with her.

“I would hope I’d get to go to Afghanistan,” she said, “just because I spent 15 months in Iraq, and I already know that.”


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