“DoD Personnel Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the military and civilian personnel and workforce issues, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Scott Maucione.
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The Air Force is implementing two new programs to ease life for airmen outside of their jobs.
The service increased the amount of free childcare for troops who deploy and implemented a new tool to help airmen find homes.
The number of free childcare hours doubled for families of service members who are deployed on April 1. Those families will now get 16 free hours of predeployment childcare and 16 hours of post-deployment care per child per month.
“This expanded care program will give our Airmen peace of mind that their families are taken care of throughout the deployment and remote assignment process,” Col. Donna Turner, Air Force Services Activity commander, said in an April 2 statement. “This will certainly enhance readiness and help build our airmen’s resiliency so they can better concentrate on executing the mission.”
The childcare program applies to active duty, reserve and guard airmen and is one of the biggest issues for service members.
The 2017 Blue Star Families Military Lifestyle Survey noted that two-thirds of military families said they could not reliably find the childcare they needed. Fifty six percent of families said the Defense Department does not provide adequate support to help children cope with the unique challenges associated with military life.
Childcare issues not only affect service members, but also their spouses who sometimes have to give up employment to care for a child while their military spouse is deployed.
“Again and again we hear from these spouses that the lack of childcare puts a big burden in their way in terms of finding employment,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who introduced a bill this year to allow military families to set up tax-free spending accounts for childcare. “Childcare is so expensive that the childcare is going to cost more than your salary then you are not going to work, you’re not going to maintain your career, your profession during that time.”
Outside of childcare, the Air Force is trying to make station changes a better experience for airmen.
The service implemented its Housing Early Assistance Tool (HEAT) on April 2. The web-based initiative helps service members and their families connect with installation housing offices to learn more about living options for an upcoming duty assignment.
HEAT allows service members and their families to request housing information for on-base government, community and privatized housing.
“The HEAT provides for an easy online experience to connect the members with their future destination and offers an online venue to obtain housing assistance prior to a PCS transfer,” said Sheila Schwartz, Air Force housing program lead. “Air Force housing offices look forward to assisting members and their families in support of finding their next home.”
The Air Force Reserve is holding onto airmen who want to leave the service or move to a new assignment for the next six months.
A memo signed by Air Force Reserve chief Maryanne Miller bars some reservists who voluntarily asked to leave the service or reassign for half a year in order to help staff occupations in need of bodies. The order holds onto the reservists from April 1 to Sept. 30, according to the memo, which was first posted on the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page.
The Air Force Reserve is calling the move “loss management.” The memo states “past experience, current recruiting challenges and a review of our progress in reaching end strength goals indicate we must retain as many personnel as possible through the end of the fiscal year.”
Air Force Reserve spokesman Lt. Col. Chad Gibson said the order applies to all Air Force reservists who volunteered to separate, discharge or retire in 2018.
“This is not a stop-loss, but merely an extension of service for six months while we transition to onboarding Citizen Airmen and most importantly, the success of the mission supporting the nation’s defense,” Gibson said.
Gibson added that with the job market improving there are more opportunities for potential employees to choose from. The Air Force therefore has to compete with private industry for the individuals it wants.
Gibson noted Air Force Reserve Command has met or exceeded its recruiting goals for the last 17 years and currently employs about 69,000 airmen. The 2018 defense authorization bill allows the reserve to bump that number up to 69,800.
The Air Force as a whole has grown rapidly over the past three years and is hurting for certain occupations such as pilots, cyber experts and maintainers.
To help retain airmen currently in active duty, the Air Force made some serious changes to what airmen are responsible for in their everyday jobs. In the fall of 2016, the Air Force cut some of its ancillary and computer-based training to give airmen more time outside of their jobs.
“We’ve taken some modest steps to ensure we use our airmen’s time in the smartest way, but this is a journey,” Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein said. “We’ll continue to be deliberate about what we cut or streamline, but more is required as we continue to focus our efforts on the business of warfighting, respecting our Airmen’s time and still meeting the necessary requirements to take care of our mission and our force.”
The removal of David Shulkin as Veterans Affairs Department secretary at the end of March did more than make waves in the VA. It also caused a shuffle in leadership at one of the Defense Department’s most neglected offices.
Robert Wilkie is now the acting VA secretary, but before that he barely had a chance to warm his seat as the Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness.
Wilkie is now technically serving in both roles, but the office of personnel and readiness seems in dire straits. The office has five presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed leadership positions. All of those positions, except for Wilkie’s, are currently vacant or have someone performing the duties until the Trump administration appoints a person to fill the role.
That can cause some serious issues for the Defense Department, which constantly states its people are the most important assets.
“It’s critical that the administration have its people in the roles to promote their agenda,” said Todd Weiler, former assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs under President Obama. Weiler’s former position is one of the five currently without an appointee.
The personnel and readiness office has been neglected for years. Since 2009, nine people held the position of undersecretary or acting undersecretary.
That turnover and lack of leadership coming from people with actual political clout in the administration has serious effects on things like recruitment, health policy and readiness.
“In this particular instance its vitally important [to have leadership] because the people in these roles are going to be the ones going on to create the policies and programs that go on to increase the size of the military that president wants,” Weiler said.
He said increasing the size of the military involves inventiveness and new ideas, especially in a time when the economy is strong and companies are hiring.
“That’s something that has to be led by the political leadership,” he said. “It’s not something that can come out organically from the Pentagon.”
David Lapan, former DoD press secretary and senior director of communications for the Bipartisan Policy Center, said it is the personnel and readiness office that creates policy for recruiting, retention and training.
Andrew Swick, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security, said that outside of the administration’s planned build up, readiness issues are being neglected without leadership.
The personnel and readiness office is responsible for the “Defense Readiness Reporting System, which tracks and updates a snapshot of readiness across the services at any one point in time,” Swick said. “There’s been a lot of conversation over the past couple years as to whether the Pentagon has a readiness problem … The answer to that is we don’t know whether the Pentagon has a readiness problem because the reporting is not always accurate, and the system is not fool-proof. One of the problems with not having consistent leadership with personnel and readiness is there’s not as much oversight as you could have over readiness reporting.”
Lapan said it is not only troops who are affected by personnel and readiness issues, but also their families.
“The old saying goes ‘You recruit the individual, but you retain or reenlist the family,'” he said. “This is all the stuff the office of personnel and readiness does and if you’re only looking at the day-to-day and keeping things going, and you don’t have somebody at the top looking forward, you could end up having problems down the road of maintaining this all volunteer force.”
So how does the personnel and readiness office operate without political leadership? Weiler described it as a metronome.
“It’s that tick, tick, tick everything is running on time, everything is running,” he said. “There’s no improvement, there’s no major adjustments. It’s just moving forward. The career leadership is really there to ensure continuity and it ensure that things progress in normal fashion and to support the political leadership in their decision making progress.”
Swick said the individual military personnel offices will do as much as they can and the bureaucrats in DoD will do as much as they can.
“Without political appointees providing vision, it’s just seen as running your wheels without any clear guidance or vision about what the objectives are from the White House,” he said.
It has been suggested that DoD get rid of its personnel and readiness office altogether and just allow the services to handle personnel and readiness issues themselves. Congress did a watered down version of this with its former acquisition, technology and logistic office. Lawmakers split the office in half and pushed decision-making authority for programs owned by specific services down to each military branch.
The new office of acquisition and sustainment now deals with the day-to-day acquisition issues.
However, all three analysts noted how important a central authority for personnel policy is for the military services. While each military service has its own personnel office, a strong Pentagon-based office is needed to make sure the military services are on the same page.
One famous example is the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which allowed gay people to serve openly in the military. Without political leadership in DoD to make the policy and enforce it throughout all the services there could be confusion with inter-service relations.
“A lot of military personnel policy is defense-wide and the decisions that are made for military personnel affect the bottom line on our budget,” Swick said. “It’s an enormous budget. Military health and military personnel policy are enormous parts of our budget and overall defense strategy and require department-wide leadership.”
No clear answer exists for why personnel and readiness is neglected despite its importance. However, there is a consensus, albeit not an exciting one:
“When I interviewed for my role as the assistant secretary I was asked, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to go to policy? Why do you want to do manpower and reserve affairs issues?'” Weiler said. “It’s that [way] in the [office of the secretary of defense] it’s that way in the services. It never has been a role that has been, for lack of a better word, that is sexy.”
After multiple losses in court, the Trump administration is holding steady on its attempt to ban transgender people from the military. That decision is receiving broad criticism from civil rights groups, lawmakers and former military officials, while few groups are coming to the administration’s defense.
The Defense Department released its long awaited policy last weekend, which recommends barring service members with gender dysphoria. Only transgender people who have been “stable” in their gender for 36 months prior to joining the service can try to join the military. If someone receives a diagnosis while currently serving, but does not require a change of gender and can still deploy, then they may be able to stay in the military.
The policy, which President Donald Trump signed on March 23, brought criticism from all over the ideological spectrum.
“President Trump’s decision to ban transgender military service is vicious, inhumane and utterly wrong. There are scores of transgender men and women serving in the military right now, under a policy that had already been established and vetted by DOD and validated by the courts. There is zero credible evidence that this policy has negatively affected readiness,” House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement. “By issuing this decision, President Trump has engaged in an act of pure discrimination against people who sacrifice every day to serve their country — and who have been doing so for years. Stripping patriotic service members of their ability to serve openly in this way goes against American values. I condemn this decision and will continue to fight it with all of my abilities.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told “Face the Nation” this weekend she supports transgender service members in the military as long as they meet the physical and mental standards.
“I have asked transgenders myself, if you are willing to lay down your life beside mine, I would welcome you into our military,” Ernst said.
Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) called Trump’s actions a “double down on bigotry” and senior House Armed Services Committee Member Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) said the policy is an “insult to the patriots who put their lives in danger every day to protect our country.”
Not everyone is upset with the decision, however. The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has worked closely with the Trump administration on policy issues, praised the decision.
“The requirements of military service are clear: every individual in uniform must be able to deploy, fight, and win in the worst of conditions, without any reliance on a daily flow of medications, medical treatment or special provision. We must also be certain our service members have the mental resilience to withstand the proven trauma of combat and the stress of prolonged deployments in austere environments. All are necessary standards if U.S. forces are going to prevail on distant battlefields,” Tom Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense said in a statement. “Secretary Mattis recently, and properly, announced that every uniformed member of the military must be deployable. The armed forces are not a petri dish for social experimentation, nor is military service a guaranteed right; rather, our military is the first line of defense for America’s own unique experiment in liberty.”
The Family Research Council also supported the new policy decision.
“President Trump is moving the military away from the crippling policies of the Obama era that left our nation’s defenses at its lowest levels of readiness since before WWII. He recognizes that the last thing we should be doing is diverting tax payer dollars from mission-critical training to funding for controversial gender reassignment surgeries and transgender sensitivity training for service members,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said.
Civil rights groups took point with the issue that transgender service members compromise readiness.
“This Trump-Pence plan categorically bans transgender people from service, with no legitimate basis. It requires the discharge of trained, skilled troops who have served honorably for decades. It’s a gross mischaracterization of transgender people, and it’s bad for our military,” said Jennifer Levi, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Transgender Rights Project director.
Leaders of the military services also supported transgender people serving in the military.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and other officials have all expressed support for keeping transgender people in the military.
“I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards, and is worldwide-deployable and is currently serving, should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” Dunford told Congress on Sept. 26, 2017.
Zukunft said he reached out to the 13 transgender members of the Coast Guard last summer and assured them he would not turn his back on them.
“We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith,” Zukunft said in August.
Spencer told reporters last August that he believed any patriot should be able to serve in the military.
Mattis took issue with the RAND Corporation study, which stated the cost of keeping transgender individuals and new recruits in the military is estimated to cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.
Mattis stated the study contained “significant shortcomings” and relied on heavily caveated data to support its conclusions, glossed over the impacts of healthcare costs, readiness and unit cohesion.
The defense secretary did not mention the New England Journal of Medicine study, which came to largely the same conclusions.
Federal News Radio’s special report from last August found many transgender service members worked in high value positions in the military such as surgeons, pilots and cyber experts. Others were deployed on a submarine while transitioning. The cost of expelling those troops from the military could have significant readiness and cost impacts that far outweigh keeping transgender people in the military.
The Navy is giving pilots bigger bonuses to stay in the military this year as a way of keeping them in the service.
The move marks the second year in a row the Navy is paying pilots extra money. Pilots in the strike fighter, electronic attack and helicopter mine countermeasure occupations can now receive up to $35,000 a year in bonuses for five years. That totals $175,000.
The bonus program is “designed to retain those officers with the talent and command experience in our primary warfighting missions that are critical for the future of our service,” the March 20 announcement stated.
The Navy is looking at other ways to retain pilots too.
“Our bonus and flight pay programs have proven successful in the past at retaining our best and brightest aviators. However, these programs have remained essentially unchanged for well over a decade, and are beginning to lose their effectiveness in the face of growing competition for talent,” said Capt. Michael Baze, head of aviation career management at Naval Personnel Command. “We asked aviators of all ranks how we should modernize and improve moving forward. Aviators reported they wanted our programs to be more flexible, merit based, and competitive with civilian opportunities. We took that feedback seriously, incorporating each of these elements in the program changes.”
Last year, the Navy increased its bonuses to $150,000 with the help of Congress.
The military and private companies are hurting for pilots.
The Air Force is currently short 2,000 pilots. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the 2019 budget will increase recruitment and continue incentive programs.
The service is increasing the number of pilots it trains a year from 1,200 to 1,400.
Last year, Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, the Air Education and Training Command director said the Air Force needs to put out 1,600 a year to stay on track. He said he wanted to hit 1,400 in the next few years.
“We’ve added hours to be able to fly more to beef up our replacement training units,” Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said during a Feb. 14 press availability at the Pentagon.
The Air Force is also getting creative with its pilot recruitment.
“We do have a couple of experiments to see if we can go faster. We are partnering with some local universities to see if we can take some of their students who have gone through one of their aviation programs. They already have their commercial multi-engine ratings and then can we pipeline them and not do the whole training, but just do the T-1 training and cut the pilot training in half, as well as experiment to see if we can use technology, some virtual reality and augmented reality to determine ‘Can I shorten that timeline?” Stephen Wilson said.
Last fall, the Air Force announced its second assignment in place program to keep pilots in their jobs.
“We’ve listened to our pilots and our aircrew and they said they want stability. It’s one of the big things they want for a lot of reasons — family, schools, spouses working — and so we take that limited career field of instructor pilots that’s at a base, and when they come up on their three year assignment, we are offering them a second assignment in place so we can give them six years at the same location and we retain that critical instructor pilot expertise that we are targeting. There seems to be a lot of interest in the field,” Brig. Gen. Michael Koscheski, director of the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force, told Federal News Radio.
A member of the House Armed Services Committee is trying to solidify into law a 10 year personnel program that lets military members take a sabbatical from service.
The career intermission pilot program has been touted by military leadership as one way to retain service members who need to care of a sick loved one or want to go back to school to better their career.
The program, which has been around since 2008, allows troops to take time off to pursue other areas of life. In return they promise to pay back every year they take off with two years in the service when they return.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced a bill last week to make that program permanent. The program is set to expire at the end of 2019.
“Encouraging our men and women in uniform to continue their service while maintaining a healthy work-life balance will help to create a more well-rounded military,” Banks said in a statement. “As we look for new and innovative ways to boost the recruitment and retention of our armed forces, preserving the highly successful Career Intermission Program will offer our dedicated soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines the opportunity to pursue career paths they couldn’t explore otherwise.”
Congress has gradually expanded the program since its conception, but reviews have been mixed.
The Army has had a low number of recruits to the program, according to a study from last year.
A total of 37 soldiers applied into the program from 2014 to 2016, but only 23 were accepted and 13 actually participated, stated a report to Congress from the Army.
The study stated “high performers are looking for career flexibility to manage competing life priorities. Lacking flexibility and courses of actions that protect their careers, soldiers often leave the Army. The Army is offering CIPP to provide valuable alternatives to help retain these valuable service members while allowing them to pursue personal and/or professional goals.”
Eight of the 13 soldiers left active duty to go study for bachelors, masters, doctorate or law degrees. Four soldiers left to spend more time with their families, care for an ailing family members, adopt or care for children or align assignments with a military spouse. The final soldier chose to pursue civilian professional opportunities overseas.
Since the creation of the program only two soldiers have returned to duty. One officer was able to finish her first year of required study to become a physical therapist. She is currently enrolled in her second year and will complete her studies using a previously authorized educational entitlement.
The second soldier was not hired for the overseas civilian position and returned to active duty after 2 months, the study stated.
Four participants were sergeants, five were staff sergeants and one was a sergeant first class. On the officer side one was a captain and two were majors. Out of those who applied, the rank most interested in the program was sergeant, with 10 applying. Eight majors also applied for the program.
Sailors leaving the Navy might just get a golden ticket before they leave.
No, they won’t be visiting the Wonka Factory, but they will have more employment options on their exit from the military.
The Navy is implementing a targeted reentry program as part of its push to recruit and retain talented sailors.
The program gives golden and silver tickets to sailors leaving the military. The golden ticket allows sailors to return to active duty within a year of their release. Silver ticket holders will get two years to decide if they want a streamlined path back into active duty.
“The program is designed to take folks that are top performers in the Navy. We tried to talk them into staying, they made up their mind, we respect their decision. They’re going to leave, but we’ve earmarked them, they were top performers, if they change their mind within one year or two years of their decision they’ve got a fast track to come back in,” Vice Adm. Robert Burke, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education, told Federal News Radio.
The program is targeted toward sailors in the lieutenant and lieutenant commander ranks. Those officers must have attained community qualifications, demonstrated superior performance in fitness reports and passed their most recent fitness assignment.
The program also goes after petty officer third class to petty officer first class enlisted ranks and meet the same criteria.
The tickets are handed out by commanding officers and will only be given to sailors who voluntarily leave the service.
“We’ve learned from our conversations with Fortune 500 companies that a lot of this is going on in the commercial world,” Burke said. “A lot of the workforce is not staying for long careers. They go out to see if the pasture is greener elsewhere, but the real career workforce comes from those who come back. Those who have left and return, so let’s give these folks a fast track to return. If they come back they came back because they know they really want to be here. Here’s your warm seat we’re ready to take you back.”
The Navy will need those career sailors, Burke said the Navy is looking to grow by about 21,000 in the next five years and he expects that number to grow.
The targeted reentry program is part of the Navy’s Sailor 2025 program, which is “a living breath set of approximately 45 initiatives [the demonstrate] the commitment of the Navy to recruiting and retaining the force of tomorrow,” the targeted reentry program announcement stated.
The Air Force is rolling out two new personnel initiatives aimed at better training and preparing airmen in the future.
Last week, the service announced the creation of an information operations technical training school, which is expected to open in 2019.
Information operations focus on electronic warfare, computer network operations and other high demand skills the Air Force is currently focusing on.
“Information Operations is not new to the Air Force,” said Col. Ziggy Schoepf, 14F career field manager in a March 5 press release. “However, this is the first time that the Air Force has codified this capability in a dedicated officer career field. With the creation of the career field and a dedicated schoolhouse, the Air Force is acknowledging the importance of Information Operations to the future of warfare.”
Before the Air Force had a designated specialty code for information officers, the service had trouble retaining airmen in those positions because they had to return to their previously assigned jobs after finishing their service as information officers.
The specialty code enabled the Air Force to standardize education and training for information officers, which is culminating in the technical school.
The school will have an initial skills course that will integrate intelligence integration, military deception, operational security and psychological operations. The course is about 15 weeks long and will begin late 2019.
“The course will provide students with cohesive training rooted in social science. Graduates will have the skills to build strategies and plans that sustain or change perceptions and attitudes driving the behavior and decision making of relevant actors,” Schoepf said.
The Air Force is also trying to give officers and their families more time to prepare for moves.
The service is transitioning to a two-cycle officer assignment system. The new timeline will start this month and allows for more time for interaction and communication between officers, billet owners, commanders and assignment teams, the Air Force said.
The new system will have summer report days from June to September and winter report dates from October through May.
The two cycles, instead of three, give officers a longer period of time to be notified of new assignments and therefore more time to prepare to move.
“The transition will not change the assignment process, but it will expand the assignment advertisement windows to the field and increase the amount of advanced notification officers and their families receive prior to their moves,” Maj. Derek Rankin, assignment programs deputy branch chief at Air Force Personnel Command said in a March 2 press release. “With expanded windows of assignment advertising, Airmen now have more time and a wider spectrum of visibility to make decisions that impact both their family lives and careers.”
The new cycle was created by fifty subject-matter experts from a cross section of Air Force specialty codes.
The 2018 cycles will be slightly truncated because the rollout is in March.
The Marine Corps is the second military service that says it will be minimally affected by the Defense Department’s new non-deployable strategy.
Gen. Glenn Walters, the Marine Corps assistant commandant, said less than 0.5 percent of the Marine total force is “truly non-deployable.”
“About 1,000 [nondeployable Marines], that’s about what we’ve been seeing for a long time. When do I get worried about it? As soon as non-deployable status in the Marine Corps affects our ability to meet our staffing goals both on the supporting establishment side and the operational side,” Walters said, during a March 6 speech at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference in Washington.
The Marine Corps currently has an end strength of 186,000, that number is expected to only increase slightly by about 400 in the next year.
Walters said the Marines need to keep their foot on the gas with recruiting to stay at that level.
While the Marine Corps has less than a half a percent that are truly non-deployable, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t more Marines that fit the nondeployable category. Walters said many of the Marines that fit the criteria of non-deployable need to catch up on things as simple as getting their teeth checked.
DoD announced its policy last month to begin separating troops that have been nondeployable for more than a year.
Currently, the military has more than a quarter of a million non-deployable troops.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said last month her service isn’t sweating the new policy either.
“The Air Force has had a lower percentage of non-deployable people than the other services historically. We also have some career fields that don’t deploy at all,” Wilson said. “I would expect we would try to implement [the DoD] policy with two priorities in mind. One is the lethality and readiness of the force overall to be able to fight. The second is fairness. There is an argument that says if you have 100 people that can do a job and 10 of them that are non-deployable, the other 90 are carrying the greater burden. If that’s true then we’ve got to do things that are fair.”
The Air Force is tasked with growing to 325,000 airmen, and the 2019 budget request bumps end strength up to almost 330,000.
That comes as the military is already competing with private industry for talented individuals and the pool from which the military can take employees is small. The Pentagon estimates only about 25 percent of people between 17 and 34 are eligible to serve.
Wilson and Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the commander of Air Education and Training Command, did not seem worried about finding the people to fill the spots.
“We have a fairly small number of people who are not deployable. We are pulling numbers now. You have to be non-deployable for over 12 months and they accept wounded warriors and they accept those who are pregnant or postpartum. … We need to look at who is permanently non-deployable, what are their skill sets, do they even have to deploy?” Wilson said.
Kwast, who is in charge of recruitment, seemed optimistic about the Air Force’s ability to handle the challenge.
“If we have a nice network model of being able to have insight into the talent in civil society, we can find people who have the fitness to be able to deploy and the talent to do the jobs we need done. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both, but only if we have a deep enough pool of people we can reach and deep enough pool of people we can measure the talent of and then marry it up with our needs,” Kwast said. “There are 330 million people in America.”
Officers in the National Guard are getting frustrated with the Defense Department over tardy promotions.
A survey by The National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) found some officers were waiting more than six months for their promotions to receive federal recognition.
That also means guardsmen are being paid at their previous rank’s level while doing the work expected in their new rank.
“There’s a back pay issue, where you don’t get your next rank’s pay until you are recognized in that position. You’re serving in a grade that’s higher. You’re serving in that next position, but you’re not getting that time in grade,” J.C. Cardinale, legislative affairs manager at NGAUS told Federal News Radio. “What it really comes down to is a retention issue for us. You’re creating this deep frustration in the Guard.”
NGAUS found that 49 percent of the more than 3,100 guardsmen they polled in the most recent FedRec survey said more than 196 days passed between state recognition and federal recognition of a promotion. Thirty-seven percent waited between 196 days and 120 days and only 14 percent were promoted in less than 120 days.
“This process is 110 percent ridiculous,” one respondent commented, according to a press release by NGAUS.
The Guard promotion process is fairly complicated. It involves states recognizing guardsmen for promotion and then aggregating those promotions into a scroll. That scroll is sent to the Pentagon for verification to quality check the guardsmen’s work and then they are approved.
“We’ve heard stories in the Guard [of waiting times] of 400 days, 500 days once the Pentagon receives it. Active duty is not that long,” Cardinale said.
The military as a whole has been struggling with retention rates while trying to maintain an all-volunteer force.
Cardinale said in the Guard retention is always a big deal.
“It’s something we always strive for. With the economy getting better and the constant operational tempo we are sending guardsmen around the world more often. It’s important we keep an eye on retention and make sure we are not unduly burdening these soldiers,” Cardinale said.
NGAUS hopes the issue can be solved internally through DoD.
“I think the big push is on the awareness front and really this is going to come down to a leadership issue at the Pentagon where they just need to realize that their process needs to be fixed. Whether it needs to be digitized or they need to take some of the steps out of the process,” Cardinale said.
The promotion issue comes as the Guard is putting more demand on some of its troops.
In 2016, Stryker brigades were required to take on more training.
“We don’t have nearly as many of those [units] as we do our infantry brigades, and as you look at requirements around the world, they are units that have to maintain higher levels of readiness,” Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy said last summer. “The other thing that makes it more complicated is the logistics in supporting large armored and Stryker formations. Logistics in terms of fuels and ammunition and just the large numbers of soldiers in those formations, nearly 4,000, and getting them all on the field at the same time fighting together, maneuvering together.”
The armored brigades, which hold Abrams tanks, and the Stryker brigades now work on a four-year training plan. Members train 39 days in year one, 48.5 days in year two, 60 days in year three and 51 days in year four. That’s compared to 39 days a year of training for other units.
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