Attrition: Sailors And Airmen Join The Army


August 7, 2009:  Five years ago, the U.S. Army established the Blue to Green program, in an attempt to persuade some of 30,000 navy and air force personnel being laid off (as the navy and air force cut their strength), to move over to the army. It was expected that at least 3,500 sailors and airmen would switch. Didn't work out that way, as they have only gotten about 200-300 a year. The biggest obstacle seems to be cultural. The navy and air force troops are not used to deploying (being sent overseas and living rough while over there), as much as the army does. Media coverage of army non-combat troops engaged in combat was also a big turn off. People don't join the navy or air force for that sort of thing.

Two years ago, with thousands of U.S. Air Force and Navy officers being laid off, the army increased the bonus for those unemployed officers willing to enter the Blue to Green program. The transferred officers would receive a $10,000 bonus (four times the previous amount) once they completed their training. The army was particularly interested in junior officers (O-2 and O-3, and some junior O-4s), who were willing to train for infantry, armor and artillery service. The army was also looking for officers who already are working in supply or human resources jobs. This didn't work well either.

The army then changed their pitch, pointing out that most non-combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are not involved in any combat. But if you are in a transportation or military police unit, you can expect to get shot at. Most of the navy and air force people considering finishing their twenty year careers (and getting a half pay pension) by transferring to the army (with their rank and time in service intact) are not in transportation or military police jobs, but other non-combat skills that will keep them away from the fighting. But there's still that business about, "going into the field" (everyone gets in a vehicle and goes "camping" for a few days, or more.) Culture clash is only one of the things killing "Blue to Green." A robust civilian job market, which was eager to hire the well trained and disciplined sailors and airmen, provided an attractive alternative to the army. Until recently, anyway.

Then came the recession, and transfers became more attractive. So the army continued the program. The sailors and airmen who did make the switch have done well, and brought years of military experience with them. But not all of those willing to make the switch are accepted. While the air force has halted its downsizing program, the navy is still at it, and is trying hard to retain the best, and dump the rest. Thus the army is often faced with a soon to be ex-sailor, who was not one of the best performers over there. But sometimes the army needs the experience, even if it isn't getting peak performance.

While the army is having no problem getting new recruits, experienced NCOs are another matter. It takes years of experience, and that's what 10-15 year veterans of the navy can bring. Some of these petty officers have already served with the army in Iraq or Afghanistan, as part of the Individual Augmentee program. For these sailors, the army is no longer an alien place. The army is also taking advantage of the fact that some young officers and sailors, who have gotten past the first few years of service, are looking for a more demanding military career, with better promotion prospects. Plus, the combat in Iraq has died down, especially for U.S. troops, and far fewer soldiers will be needed in Afghanistan. For laid off sailors seeking shelter from the economic storm, the army looks like a amenable place to be.




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