• U.S.

ARMED FORCES: Upping the Re-Up

4 minute read

On May 26, 1954, Air Force Lieut. General Emmet (“Rosie”) O’Donnell received a terse memo: “The Chief of Staff directs that a thoroughgoing study be made of Air Force organization, procedures and policies dealing with the re-enlistment problem.” O’Donnell recognized the directive for what it was: a do-or-die order to solve a problem that had already become desperate.

Air Force re-enlistment was down to about 20%. The highest manpower losses were in the most-needed categories, the technicians and specialists whose training requires about four years. It was these men who were most attractive to private industry, and the Air Force found itself unable to compete.

O’Donnell put his heavy arm on square-jawed Brigadier General Richard H. Carmichael. a wartime flying pal in the Pacific theater (two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, four Legions of Merit, and the Air Medal with three oakleaf clusters). Around the Pentagon, Carmichael was unofficially dubbed “Vice President of the Air Force in charge of Re-enlistment.”

Houses & Wives. To find out exactly why airmen were refusing in droves to “re-up,”‘ Carmichael set the Air Force Statistics Control Division to work. Questionnaires were sent to every twentieth airman: the returns were interesting.

As expected, pay and allowances were the major gripes among airmen of all ranks—but it also became clear that it would not take much of a pay raise to make the services genuinely competitive with civilian industry. The airmen wanted more and better housing for their families, improved maternity care for their wives.

The G.I. Bill of Rights itself had a backwash against reenlistment. By staying in the service, an airman deprived himself of thousands of dollars worth of veterans’ rights, especially education. The Statistics Control Division survey showed that of the 80% refusing to re-up, 48.6% were headed for college under the G.I. Bill. The Air Force could offer little to dissuade them.

Among enlisted airmen, complaints varied by rank. Men in the lowest grades had classic grumbles: they thought the promotion system was unfair; they considered their noncoms and officers incompetent. The middle grades, e.g., airmen first class, were concerned about base and job assignments that seemed dictated by whim rather than reason.

The top-graded noncommissioned officers, among whom re-enlistment attrition was critical, were most resentful of their dwindling prestige and authority. Their complaint bore out a report of a joint-services study committee, headed by Rear Admiral J. P. Womble Jr., which found there had been a serious “dilution in mili tary authority and leadership.” Said the Womble report: “The committee unanimously concludes that the professional standards have been permitted to deteriorate through lack of effective disciplinary control.”

Rights & Incentives. Dick Carmichael and colleagues went to work. President Eisenhower was consulted, and under his sponsorship the 1955 military pay raise bill, with its built-in incentives to reenlist, was passed by Congress. So were measures giving servicemen an extra month’s rental allowance for each permanent change of station and offering to men still in the services the home-mortgage rights now enjoyed by veterans.

The Air Force took broad administrative action. Opportunities were increased for enrollment in advanced technical schools. Plans are well along to set up NCO academies in every major Air Force command. General O’Donnell explains: “The idea is to get subaltern command back into the hands of the NCOs.”

One of the most important changes was to take the primary responsibility for re-enlistment out of the recruiting service and to place it in the hands of the unit commanders. A telephone-book-sized fact file (The Packaged Program for Reenlistment) has been sent to all commanders ; they are expected to know it and to be able to use it to sell reenlistment. No man is permitted to pick up his discharge papers without an interview with his immediate commander, who gives him a booklet laying out the advantages of an Air Force career. Even after discharge, the Air Force keeps trying. For 90 days after he receives his papers, an airman can re-up and keep his old rating. During that 90 days he can surely expect a visit from a persuasive Air Force representative.

The O’Donnell-Carmichael big drive has had its effect. From the 20% re-enlistment rate last year, the figure has moved up to an alltime high of 42% for this July and August. Carmichael now has his eye set on a new goal: a re-enlistment rate of 60%, unheard of in U.S. military history.

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