Despite the demands of the war on terror, the U.S. Navy broke retention records for the third year in a row in 2003. Retention is getting sailors to re-enlist when their time is up. For 2003, 60.8 percent of the sailors on their first enlistment stayed in, while 76.5 percent of those with 6-10 years service stayed in and 87.4 percent of those with 10-14 years service did so. For the 28th month in a row, recruiters were able to raise standards for new recruits (high school diploma, college and other studies, physical condition and test scores). In 2003, 94.3 percent of recruits had a high school diploma, versus only 90 percent two years earlier. In 2003, 7.8 percent of recruits had at least 12 semester hours of college. The test scores are for tests given by the navy to evaluate the potential of new recruits. The higher re-enlistment rates mean fewer new sailors have to be recruited and fewer go to sea with just classroom training. Of the nine enlisted ranks (E-1 to E-9), the first three are considered sailors still in training. That percentage keeps falling, and is currently at 27.5 percent. The navy expects to get it down to 25 percent in the next few years. For most navies, the figure is 40 percent or more. A higher proportion of trained sailors on board makes for more effective, and content, crews.
The constantly improving retention and recruit quality is the result of several factors. First, there's a war on, and patriotism does play a role in this. The three year recession also played a part, as recession always does. But the navy has also been doing more to make life at sea more bearable. "Habitability" (quality of life on the ship) improvements are constantly made to existing ships, and the designs for new ones. The next generation of ships, which will start to appear at the end of the decade, will have major increases in habitability (as well as much smaller crews). Better training, better living conditions for families and pay increases (including re-enlistment bonuses) also play a role. All the positives tend to work together, especially the steadily rising quality among the leadership (officers and petty officers). This has been going on for over a decade, and is paying off. On the negative side, there is the increased time at sea, especially during the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. But the navy changed it's policy on regular (non-combat) time at sea, keeping the ships in port more. This also makes it easier to get a lot more ships to sea for a combat situation. This was a major change in how the navy operates, and was well received by the crews. You can tell by the re-enlistment rates.