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Army booting thousands, but not volunteers

Mar. 18, 2013 - 09:28AM   |  
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WHAT SOLDIERS ARE SAYING

Most soldiers who answered Army Times’ question about volunteering to get out during the drawdown said they would willingly go. Some told how they’ve done it, and others had words of advice and caution for soldiers reconsidering their status. Here is a sample of the messages to Army Times, from letters to the editor and comments on Facebook:
• “I retire in a year and would gladly get out today if the Army allowed me to. After 19 years of basically baby-sitting troops, now I have to help them deal with every little problem that comes up. I am blamed for everything they fail to do while my senior leaders get the credit for what they do right. I see more and more senior leaders acting like fools in front of the troops while telling me and my peers how unprofessional we are. I am proud of serving my country, but if given the chance to leave early, I would not think twice.” — Staff Sgt. Augustine Canales, Fort Sill, Okla.
• “Just show me where to sign.” — Roger Tijerina
• “If it were offered to go home, I would jump at the chance. It turns out I am not in as good shape as I thought I was.” — Jackson Eggers
• “My shoulder would pop out of place raising my hand so fast. I know entire battalions that would do the same. Wow just wow.” —Johnny Byler
• “I’m with u my man.” — Jared Gandy
• “Nope. Not a quitter, and I made a commitment.” — Edith Ramirez
• “I put my retirement in May of 2012 and it was denied. I will try again. Willing to help with the drawdown.” — Staff Sgt. Delone Taylor, Kaiserslautern, Germany
• “Why would you rather separate soldiers involuntarily than let them leave voluntarily? It’s not even worth the risk of keeping the people who don’t want to be there, than having the people who want to be in the military.” — Anthony Smith
• “Ryan Kehling hit the nail on the head. The whole … ‘it’s a paycheck’ mentality is why the Army is what it is. It leads to soldiers with no passion for leadership, which eventually leads aspiring, passionate lower enlisted and NCOs waiting for a promotion that never comes because the spots are taken. Soldiers and NCOs like that are a cancer to the Army and the main reason why I got out.” — Franco Palma
• “Given an honorable discharge, I believe there would be a huge number that would get out. This could curb a lot of the problems in the Army right now. Soldiers who do not care, do not want to progress, and soldiers with discipline problems. That’s just a small part of it. I think this would be a great opportunity for soldiers and NCOs to get out honorably.” — Jeffrey Dilcher
• “Any soldier who wants to leave (and is on indefinite status) can request a discharge at any time. I did it five years ago (after nearly 13 years of service) and have never regretted it for a moment.” — Michael Rautio
• “Those who served and are allowed to leave should leave. I would rather have soldiers who want to be here, want to serve, want to wear the uniform, want to take advantage of the benefits. I’d rather have half a platoon that wants the job than a full platoon that would rather do something else. The job is hard enough with these part-time soldiers. It would be a sight to see with some full-time soldiers who give a hoo-ah.” — Tj Reutzel
• “I think it’s a good idea. Let the soldiers who want out leave. Keep the ones who want to stay. Within reason. The Army needs to keep balance of rank and specialties.” — Lydia Hales
• “I got out after seven years and two deployments due to the declining state of the quality in the Army. Do not mistake my words: I love the Army, and the Army helped form me into the person I am today. The Army provided for me when I needed it and I repaid the debt in many ways. I am doing well on the outside. People are afraid to get out because they are afraid of the unknown. So you wind up having lifers with no real desire to continue in the military except for a paycheck. That creates a promotion backlog and the younger motivated [noncommissioned officers] cannot progress and eventually decide to part ways. Do not be afraid to get out.” — Ryan Kehlin
• “If you active-duty personnel hold steady for a bit, they’ll give you a cash payout to exit your enlistment. Honorable discharge included.” — Jim Burke
• “I have 24 good years in the Army, and would be happy to retire now if I could keep my retired pay at current grade without having to stay three years in the grade I am in now. I think they need to waive that requirement and let us retire with the years we have now.” — Lt. Col. Diane Struthers, Lillington, N.C.

THE DRAWDOWN

The Army will cut at least 60,000 soldiers from the Regular Army ranks during the drawdown, with commanders determining who goes and who stays in, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army’s personnel chief, said recently.
The active component stands at about 551,000 now, and the drawdown will reduce the force to 490,000 by the end of 2017.
About 20 percent of that reduction will consist of involuntary separations, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said. It’s likely that 16,000 enlisted soldiers and 3,000 to 5,000 officers will leave through some type of involuntary separation in the next few years.
Attrition will take care of the rest, said Army leaders, who have authorized a mission of retaining 54,000 to 63,000 soldiers this fiscal year. Their goal is to keep at least 10,000 soldiers with expiration term of service dates in 2013, and 44,000 in 2014.
So far, it’s working, Odierno said.
“We really exceeded our goals for natural attrition this year,” he said in December, with the force shrinking to 551,000 by the end of fiscal 2012.

Soldiers say they are willing to raise their hands and volunteer to get out of the Army as part of the massive drawdown. If the Army would only let them.

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Soldiers say they are willing to raise their hands and volunteer to get out of the Army as part of the massive drawdown. If the Army would only let them.

“Just show me where to sign,” one told Army Times.

“[The Army] should let the ones that are willing to leave early — leave, instead of forcing those out who want to and need to stay in,” said another.

Some say the Army should agree to an amicable separation.

“I can understand Army leadership’s hesitance to move toward a system to let people out early, but I believe that a carefully thought-out system could be beneficial to the Army,” Spc. Joel LeMaistre said in a message to Army Times.

He and more than 100 others answered when Army Times asked soldiers if they would volunteer to leave the Army. The question was prompted by one soldier who wrote to say he would gladly leave so others could stay, since he didn’t expect to deploy again.

Soldiers have learned it isn’t as easy as raising your hand. The Army has to agree to let them out of their contracts and commitments.

But one commenter offers a surefire way to go: “If you want to get out, that’s easy: Eat nothing but McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s for a month, balloon 50 pounds and fail the height/weight. A Chapter 18 is an automatic honorable discharge,” Thomas Coyne wrote.

A number of soldiers suggested the Army, as a first priority, allow volunteers to leave before using the option of involuntary separations.

“I’m surprised the Army isn’t asking for volunteers to get out first. That would seem like the easiest course of action to follow, then the second should be to implement the QSP/QMP process,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Cantu, who has served for 18 years. He referred to two involuntary separation programs: the Qualitative Service Program for staff sergeants and senior noncommissioned officers in overstrength military occupational specialties, and the Qualitative Management Program for retirement-eligible senior NCOs who have derogatory information in their records.

Through the QSP, soldiers have the option to voluntarily retire rather than go through the screening if they are in an overstrength MOS on the QSP hit list. If they choose to leave this way, they will serve for several months before they have to retire.

When soldiers are selected by a QSP board, they have one year to separate or retire, leaving time for transition and processing.

One soldier said he and the Army don’t need each other.

“I’ve been a fueler (92F) for more than three years and still have one more year on my contract. I want to do something else other than being a junior enlisted and doing fuel missions,” said the soldier, who asked not to be named. “I have a master’s degree in finance, so probably I will find a financial analyst job afterwards. I don’t really understand why the Army is still trying to keep us, as many as they can, in an overstrength MOS.”

Another soldier agrees.

“I have no intentions of re-enlisting, and I already have job security set up at home,” he told Army Times. “I appreciate what the Army has done for me and how it has matured me, but now that the Army is reducing numbers, they shouldn’t make it hard.”

Another says the Army doesn’t use him well and “can’t afford” him.

“I have been in for three years, volunteered for three deployments and every single one of them has been canceled or, for some reason or another, just not happened. I am a 13M [Multiple Launch Rocket System] crewmember, my MOS serves no practical purpose today, and the thought of spending two more years bumming around the motor pool makes me sick,” he wrote. “The Army can’t afford me, so let me get out and move on to civilian life where I can have a sense of purpose in the world.”

Army’s choice

But the Army has no plans to let soldiers walk away, said Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands, director of military personnel management in the Army’s Office of the G-1.

“The Army would decide who stays,” he said matter-of-factly. “We have a solid plan. Our intent is to stay on plan.”

In designing this drawdown, Army leaders looked to the drawdown in the 1990s to harvest lessons, he said.

Their “conscious decision was not for a wholesale volunteer separation,” he told Army Times on March 14.

There are two key differences between the Army’s approach then and now, Seamands said. The “ramp was steeper” for the ’90s drawdown, and the Army lost 100,000 soldiers in a year. There was no control over the quality of soldiers who left, and many good ones went.

The other key difference is that the secretary of the Army has approved the Temporary Early Retirement Authority for those who will be involuntarily separated through the enlisted QSP and officer promotions passovers. To qualify for early retirement, soldiers must have at least 15 but fewer than 20 years in service.

The Army may also have separation boards for NCOs with at least six years of service, and those selected for involuntary separation will be given separation pay based on their rank and number of years of service.

But less than 5 percent of soldiers will be in a position that they are told to do something else during their time in the Army, Seamands said.

Soldiers should not look for widespread early-outs, buyouts or other mechanisms to enable large numbers to leave voluntarily during the drawdown.

Nor can they look to shorter enlistment contracts. These average about four years, considered optimal because “of the technical nature of their specialties,” Seamands said.

The Army has a few ways that soldiers can leave before their commitment is up, but these apply to certain individual cases such as hardship or family issues, Seamands said. The Army is “judicious” about how soldiers are separated this way. In letting soldiers go, he said, leaders want to do right by their soldiers.

“In terms of mechanisms to leave, the underpinning has to do with as much compassion as possible,” Seamands said. “We take the transition piece very seriously. It’s important … that they have a strong takeoff when they leave and feel good about the service they’ve done.”

He emphasized that the Army wants soldiers to have predictability in transition, and that those who go have at least 12 months of separation time to prepare.

“It’s an opportunity to do the right thing,” Seamands said. “We’ve matured a lot as an Army.”

Keeping the best

Early-outs “did not work out so well” in the drawdown of the early ’90s, the Army’s top officer, Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, told Congress last year.

“Our assessment is the people we wanted to stay were leaving because they felt more confident about leaving and being able to do other things,” he said. “We want to have control over keeping our best people. … We will use [voluntary incentives] if we have to, but they are something of a last resort.”

But some soldiers say they want to serve with buddies who really want to be there.

“The Army’s biggest worry with allowing soldiers to voluntarily separate is that all of the good soldiers will leave, and we will be left with the ones that are only here for a paycheck,” Cantu said. “One concern my peers and I have is being forced to go to war with individuals that don’t want to be in the Army. These are not the individuals that I would feel comfortable watching my back in a combat zone thousands of miles away from home.”

“If they want to go, let them. I want an elite team of professional soldiers that are passionate and want to be here,” Dustin Hall said on Facebook. “The Army is not for everyone, including some that enlisted.”

In regard to those concerns, Seamands said personnel officials “work hard on talent management to keep the best we can.”

One way out

One soldier told Army Times how he’s leaving early.

“I have done exactly what this article is talking about. I recently signed a [Declination of Continued Service Statement] to avoid an awful three-year tour with [Army Recruiting Command] and, in accordance with AR 635-200, I applied for early separation and was approved,” Wesley Reed said. “Now I am signing out on transition leave this Friday, with an official [expiration term of service] date in two months. This was almost two full years prior to my original ETS date in 2015.”

But the DCSS isn’t for everyone, Seamands said. Typically, the way it works is that an NCO receives an assignment, decides to decline it and, based on the declination, an NCO can be separated early. But the soldier must request it, and the separation must be based on the needs of the Army.

Thousands will soon go because of disabilities. The Army expects a spike in separations for disability through the integrated disability evaluation system, Seamands said.

Between 10,000 and 14,000 soldiers are within 180 days of separation this way, Seamands said, adding that, in six to 12 months, the Army will see accelerated losses from improvements in the processing system.

The Army has another potential way out for a few, but it isn’t being used.

“We have the authority if we need it” to give waivers for the service requirement of three years on active duty after promotion to lieutenant colonel or colonel, but the Army has not approved any such waivers, the Army’s personnel chief, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, has said.

For those officers, “we’re looking for three years,” Seamands said.

For soldiers who leave the Army, Seamands wants them “leaving with a good impression” of their service. Commanders have a moral obligation to make sure soldiers leave well and transition well, he said.

If they choose to keep ties to the service, he said, the Army wants to help them have a seamless transition into reserve components.

For those who get out of uniform, Seamands said, “Some decide they miss it.”

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