Friday, June 17, 2005

'Problem' Soldiers? Not neccessarily

That's a photo I shot during the Army's birthday celebration festivities held Tuesday. It ran on the front page this week, which I was pretty pleased about. Anyway, here's a story I put together on the new separation memo:

'Problem' Soldiers?
Not neccessarily

Army puts retention decision
into the hands of brigade COs

Turret Staff Writer

With the Army still actively engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recruiting numbers failing to meet goals for the fourth consecutive month, the Department of the Army issued an order to commanders that raised the authority for separating "problem" Soldiers from battalion to brigade level.

While that decision has been criticized as an attempt to keep less-qualified Soldiers to fill out ranks, Frank Shaffery, the deputy chief of staff for the U. S. Army Recruiting Command's Operations and Plans Division at Fort Knox, said that the decision was designed to foster more consistency in the separation process.

"The Soldier gets the benefit of having a more seasoned leader determine whether the Soldier should be separated or given the benefit of being able to be rehabilitated," Shaffery said.

"My view, after reading (the memorandum), is that the intent was not to keep more people, it was to ensure that we're keeping the right people," he explained.

The memorandum, dated May 27 and published in the online magazine Slate, said cases where first-term Soldiers are under consideration for separation will be reviewed by a brigade-level commander. That includes those under consideration for failure to meet medical fitness standards, alcohol or other drug abuse rehabilitation failure, poor entry level performance and conduct, pregnancy, and failure to meet body fat standards.

Sgt. Maj. David Ohler, Fort Knox's command career counselor, said the decision is aimed at giving every Soldier under consideration for discharge a fair and impartial review.

"We want to give every (one) a fair chance and a fair shake," Ohler said. "This is really just another set of eyes looking at each situation."

Since brigade-level commanders are farther removed from the "boots on the ground" company level, he explained, a Soldier facing involuntary separation has a better chance of an impartial decision by a commander at that level.

"They're looking at the 'Big Army,'" Ohler said. "It does not mean that the (individual) will not be discharged.

"We want to make sure that we're giving everyone a fair shot at rehabilitation."
Some battalion commanders are not pleased with the decision.

"It is the guys on weight control ... school no-shows, drug users, et cetera, who eat up my time and cause my hair to grey prematurely," one unnamed commander said to the Wall Street Journal's Greg Jaffe in an article published June 2.

But Shaffery said the order does not constitute a lowering of standards.

"It has nothing to do with the standards going down," he said. "It's realigning the approval authority to reduce the number of people making individual decisions."

Shaffery said that fewer approval authorities will make for more consistency in separations.
Other programs are being initiated in the hopes of increasing recruitment and retention as well, including boosting signing bonuses and creating a 15-month-plus-training contract option for certain military occupational specialties.

Potential recruits may also participate in the Future Soldier Training Program, Shaffery said.
"We're trying to better prepare them to enter basic training," he explained.

Under the program, recruiters enroll potential enlistees in a physical training regimen and give them the opportunity to complete some of the more "academic" tasks of basic training -- like first aid and sexual harassment classes -- online.

USAREC is also providing greater opportunities for promotion prior to basic training. Passing a physical fitness test or assisting a local recruiter for a set period of time before basic will get a recruit promoted to private (E-2).

Challenges remain ahead if the Army hopes to make its goal of 80,000 new recruits this fiscal year, increasing the size of the force to more than half a million.


Update: Here's the Mudville Gazette's latest Open Post.