Attrition: A Little Taste Will Do You

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January 15, 2008: Noting that thousands of National Guard (part time) troops have volunteered to switch to the active (full time) army, the U.S. Army has came up with a recruiting program that offers bonuses to National Guard recruits who finish their initial training, and then volunteer to join the active army. Cash bonuses helped. Those who volunteered for 30 months of active duty got $20,000 (36 month got $30,000 and 48 months got $40,000). The program began last October, and in its first three months, brought in over 500 volunteers. The army believed it could get 1,600 troops in the first year of the program.

The National Guard (NG) is the modern version of the centuries old militia forces. Except when "federalized" (for combat duty), the NG troops are controlled by the state governor. In that role, they are used for natural emergencies or cases of civil disorder. NG troops are now trained for counter-terrorism operations as well. Many NG troops are former active duty soldiers (usually for four years) in the army, and join the NG for the extra money, and because they are familiar and comfortable with the work. Most NG units are in suburban or rural areas, where the army pay is often higher than the local averages, and thus a good way to pick up some extra money in what is essentially a part time job. A lot of the NG volunteers for the active army were inspired by patriotism, and the fact that they would be making more than their current job.

Another incentive for recruiting NG soldiers to the active duty army, that there are so manyactive army veterans in NG units, who could provide an accurate picture of what the active duty army was like. It being wartime does not appear to have much negative effect. The risk of getting hurt in Iraq was seen as acceptable, mainly because the casualty rates are much lower than previous wars.

Finally, the army has benefitted from a much improved image since September 11, 2001. The rapid defeat of the Taliban in 2001, and Iraq in 2003, featured lots media portrayals of articulate, obviously competent and "guys next door" soldiers. The Vietnam era "sad sack" image of soldiers was fading fast, and the new version was something many young men and women were happy to associate with. Thus the army has been able to maintain its strength in wartime, and even expand. While the cash bonuses are important, they are a technique also used in civilian life, by companies determined to get the people they want for jobs that have to be filled.

 


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