The Army is changing its retention program for fiscal 2022 by shrinking the window of time during which soldiers can reenlist and even ending a popular duty station stabilization loophole, Army Times has learned.
The modifications, which don’t directly affect the service’s retention bonus program, reduce the options available to soldiers who want to re-up. The service has seen strong retention in recent years, but Army officials did not acknowledge that the high retention was driving their decision to tighten the program.
Army Times reviewed an email outlining the changes that leaked to Reddit, and the Army later announced them in a Thursday news release.
The service is reducing its “Reenlistment Opportunity Window” from 15 months prior to a soldier’s scheduled separation to 12 months, according to the email and release.
Sgt. Maj. Tobey Whitney, the Army’s senior career counselor, said the Army ordered the change because “it is simple for Soldiers, leaders and families to understand when they are 365 days from their ETS.”
Moreover, Whitney said Army data shows most soldiers reenlist “between eight and 11 months” before their contract expires.
And according to the email, the Army is imposing stricter terms on soldiers in their window who simply want to extend rather than reenlist.
Previously, troops could sign ROW extensions for 12 to 23 months. These extensions became a popular way for soldiers to stabilize at their current duty station.
But starting next month, ROW extensions are for a minimum of 18 months and “will not provide [duty station] stabilization,” according to the leaked email, which adds that career counselors should only offer them “as a last resort.”
“We found that it is pretty common for Soldiers to extend,” Whitney said of the extension program changes. “We are adding six additional months to provide a little more predictability for Army units, the Soldier, and their family.”
The service is also reducing mid-career reenlistment options by expanding its Career Status Program, which forces mid-career troops into indefinite-length contracts.
Previously, it only applied to soldiers ranked staff sergeant or higher with 12 years served. Beginning Oct. 1, the Army will apply the policy to staff sergeants or higher with ten years in active-duty service.
Whitney told Army Times via email that the 12 year threshold has been in effect since 2017 and impacted “over 20,000 NCOs with over 10 years of service [who] have had to or will have to reenlist twice just to reach retirement eligibility.”
Whitney said the benefit is in the simplicity of the program.
“Entering the NCO Career Status Program and not having to reenlist multiple times after the 10 year benchmark provides predictability to Soldiers and their families and allows them to continue serving to retirement,” the Army’s top retention specialist explained.
These NCOs can request voluntary separation later on if they wish, he said. They can also utilize the new Career Intermission Program to take a break from service if necessary.
He also stressed that soldiers reenlisting indefinitely can still receive one final retention bonus.
“Any Soldier who is serving in a Critical Skill that is authorized a Selective Retention Bonus remains eligible, regardless of when they reenlist,” Whitney confirmed to Army Times.
Some troops are not happy with the change, though, because fewer reenlistments mean fewer bonuses.
“Stop, I was still planning to scam the Army out of a couple more bonuses,” joked one Reddit user.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.