Fort Benning aces
Infantry Soldiers stay Army, re-enlist
By Melissa House/The Bayonet
FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, April 15, 2005) – Although the Army appears to have had trouble meeting its recruiting goals in the past few months, Fort Benning hasn’t had any difficulty keeping its Soldiers.
The post retention noncommissioned officers put big numbers on paper for the second quarter of fiscal 2005, meeting 100 percent or more of retention goals for the 11 Training and Doctrine Command units.
Now, more than halfway through the fiscal year, Sgt. Maj. Lyle Hogue, the command career counselor, said he’s pleased with the command emphasis on retention and impressed by Soldiers’ decisions to commit to the Army.
Although recruiting and retention are often lumped together, Hogue said, they’re “distinctly different.” He’s been involved in one or the other for 16 of his 21-year Army career, including four years as a recruiter in Boston.
“You’re dealing with a different dynamic with recruiting than when you’re dealing with Soldiers,” he said. “Soldiers evaluate risks. Civilians can’t really evaluate that risk because they only see what’s on TV or hear through secondhand stories.”
The Fort Benning Soldiers who re-enlist, Hogue said, already have the warrior spirit instilled in them and a sense of patriotism and service to country that motivates a lot of them to stay in the Army past their initial enlistment.
The challenge, he said, is in meeting the expectations of the “first term” Soldiers who joined the Army following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Fort Benning exceeded its retention goals for those initial-term Soldiers: 103 percent for the second quarter and 109 percent for the fiscal year.
Those numbers, Hogue said, are the result of having a good and dynamic retention team, from the commanding general to leaders at the lowest level, to a group of NCOs selected to run battalion-level retention programs.
“The centerpiece of the reason why we do well is we talk to (the Soldiers) right when they get to the unit,” Hogue said. “Someone talks to them about their plans, their goals, and then we keep that conversation going.”
Soldiers are eligible to sign a new enlistment contract a year prior to their ETS date, but Hogue said one year out is too late to start talking with someone. He said Soldiers here know their leaders care about them, so “alarms and bells go off when a Soldier says he thinks he wants to get out.”
“We’re not going to keep everybody,” Hogue said, “but we try to treat the Soldiers like family, and you’re not going to let a family member (leave the Army) unprepared.”
Spc. Lewis Atchison signed a three-year contract in January which guaranteed him at least a one-year stabilization at Fort Benning and a six-month college option.
Atchison, a 4th Ranger Training Battalion Soldier who has been in the Army for five years, turned down two job offers in the civilian sector to re-enlist.
“This is what I wanted to do,” Atchison said. “And I have the full support of my wife.”
Hogue said credit for the retention success also rests with the entire tricommunity. About half of the Soldiers in the post’s TRADOC units re-enlist to stay at Fort Benning.
“I give a lot of kudos to Columbus, to Mayor (Bob) Poydasheff and the city council,” Hogue said. “The Soldiers feel their families are taken care of and the community is safe. Everything is very positive for retention.”
While the recruiters may be struggling now, Hogue thinks things will turn around for them during the summer months.
“The Army’s working hard to get the correct message out, and we have the right policies in place to have a successful, all-volunteer Army,” he said. “This is the first long-term war with an all-volunteer Army, and it’s working. Soldiers are saying, ‘We’re a nation at war. It’s not time for me to go.’”
Hogue said the post’s retention NCOs also have a responsibility for transitioning Soldiers into the Reserves, a mission they’re meeting to the tune of more than 105 percent.
“The Reserve Soldiers are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with active-duty Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. “It’s important we keep their posture levels strong.”