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Retaining Special Operators
Posted by: McQ on Friday, October 12, 2007

Seems the Pentagon strategy for keeping our Special Operations folks is to offer 6-figure bonuses:
The Pentagon has paid more than $100 million in bonuses to veteran Green Berets and Navy SEALs, reversing the flow of top commandos to the corporate world where security companies such as Blackwater USA are offering big salaries.

The retention effort, started nearly three years ago and overseen by U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., has helped preserve a small but elite group of enlisted troops with vast experience fighting the unconventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Defense Department statistics.

Overall, more than 1,200 of the military's most specialized personnel near or already eligible for retirement have opted for payments of up to $150,000 in return for staying in uniform several more years.
As James Joyner quips:
Leave it to the federal government to bid against itself for its own employees.
But he's right ... the extensive use of contractors in the GWoT (Iraq and Afghanistan) has driven the market price up for men with the skills found in the Special Operations community.

The article goes on to note that Sec. Gates is now exploring ways put "no-compete clauses into contracts with security companies that would limit their recruiting abilities."

You have to wonder, given the fact that this has been a problem for quite some time, why we're finally "exploring" this now.

But as a short-term fix, this makes sense. Joyner goes on to note:
Beyond that, though, it’s long past time for the Defense Department to overhaul its pay structure. By making compensation mostly based on rank, we make it very hard to retain enlisted personnel who are can command much more in the outside world for the training they’ve received. Re-enlistment bonuses are one way of dealing with that but radically higher special skill pay might be a more effective tool at attracting and keeping the best and brightest.
I agree with him. The fact remains that while we talk about expanding the Special Operations forces, that's easier said than done. And once you train them, you have to retain them. That will take a number of incentives, and not all of them are to be found in cash. Charlie at OpFor notes:
Reasons for the increased monetary incentive include increased deployment tempo, more time away from home, more hazardous duty, frustration with the command climate, and limited career progression. In certain fields (such as IT (signal), intell, and transportation/logistics) the civilian market is very attractive for soldiers nearing their ETS date.

This trend will continue until the military expands enough to alleviate deployment tempo, and looks at its soldier-care issues that lead to good soldiers becoming good civilians.
As most know, while you may be making more money than you ever thought you would, if you're not satisfied with your job (and that goes to the deployment tempo and the soldier-care issues Charlie is talking about), money alone isn't going to keep you there. And that's especially true if you can get as much or more for your skills on the civilian market.

And these issues go beyond the Special Operations community as well. The Army is offering junior officers multi-thousand dollar bonuses to stay and help the service avoid the leadership drain it is now undergoing. Again, more than the money, it is the other issues which are driving soldiers out of the service.

It is these issues that is driving the Army to speed up its expansion, bringing in 74,000 new soldiers by 2010 instead of 2012 as originally planned. That has its own inherent problems as outlined in the article, but it will reduce the optempo and deployments. Both are critical to retention.

At that point, soldier-care issues and pay are important and, as both Charlie and James Joyner point out, need to be addressed and at a minimum reflect comparable civilian standards for both.

Special Operations, obviously, are going to be critical to the long-war we're committed to against non-state actors we classify as "terrorists". Finding good Special Operators is difficult, training them is expensive and retaining them must be a priority. The present bonuses being paid are a good stop-gap measure to insure we retain the institutional experience necessary to keep our SO folks at the high level of training necessary to do their jobs effectively. But we also need a more permanent solution that addresses the other issues mentioned to ensure that the military remains the first choice for our Special Operators in the future.
 
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I am reminded of the period in the middle and late 1980s when airlines were hiring like crazy. Pilots were leaving in droves. In an effort to stem the losses, the Air Force decided to raise the esprit by replacing the old Nomex flying jackets with leather jackets, similar to the old WWII ones. The cost was perhaps $200. Didn’t work, of course. More substantive lures were needed, and eventually implemented.
 
Written By: Tregonsee
URL: http://
Money works....plus satisfying jobs. In the 1970’s pilots were leaving the military because they weren’t flying enough. So if you can fly the friendly skies AND make $60,000 (1976) why not? Of course it works the opposite way too, if I can keep doing what I’m doing, guarding people but can make $150,000 doing the wame thing for Blackwater, why stay in the military? Either side of the puzzle works.

I’ve never understood why you needed to be an ossifer to drive an F-15...I don’t mind paying F-15 Drivers $80K a year, but how about F-15 flight pay being $60K a year PLUS your salary, and let sergeants fly’em? IS it being a Captain in the USAF flying the F-15 that draws’em in or is it flying the F-15? So I’d echo that pay based on rank is not so great, pay people for what they do, not so much the pay grade...though officers ought to make more than privates.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"no-compete clauses into contracts with security companies that would limit their recruiting abilities."
Won’t this drive down the quality of companies like Blackwater, resulting in more bad things happening where they are employed?

And in turn require the military to pick up the slack?
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
Won’t this drive down the quality of companies like Blackwater, resulting in more bad things happening where they are employed?

And in turn require the military to pick up the slack?
Not necessarily ... it just means they’ll end up raiding the SOF forces of other countries (they do that now, btw) or bringing on SOF guys who got out for other reasons than going to work for Blackwater.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Beyond that, though, it’s long past time for the Defense Department to overhaul its pay structure. By making compensation mostly based on rank, we make it very hard to retain enlisted personnel who are can command much more in the outside world for the training they’ve received. Re-enlistment bonuses are one way of dealing with that but radically higher special skill pay might be a more effective tool at attracting and keeping the best and brightest.
I agree with him. The fact remains that while we talk about expanding the Special Operations forces, that’s easier said than done.
Yeah, well the trouble of course with all of that is the idea that the Democrats in Congress are just now the ones who control such matters. Spending larger money on the military, at all, much less special forces, isn’t exactly a popular item, in the halls of Congress, thereby.

And dare I say this, the amount of special ops people going into the contracting buiness as opposed to being in uniform, is a direct result of the Democrats in Congress rasing hell about special ops which ARE a part of the military.

The funding is certainly larger for contractors, but is under a less direct congressional control than funding for the Military.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
I am reminded of the period in the middle and late 1980s when airlines were hiring like crazy. Pilots were leaving in droves.
The problem with pilots and the airlines have virtually nothing to do with money. Time and again the Air Force convened "aircrew concerns" boards to determine why aircrews were leaving the Air Force. These boards were convened at least once in every decade since the 70s. And the same kinds of problems were discussed at every one of them - and pay was not one of the gripes after about the mid-80s. It had everything to do with all of the "other duties as assigned" that were required of the average aircrew member in addition to his flying and duties as an officer.

The flight jacket fiasco was one of the so-called fixes to the pilot retention problem. And by the way, it was a pilot retention problem that was really being addressed. The airlines were hiring pilots - not navigators. So all sorts of ideas were used, the foremost among them was money. But truth be told I do not know of a single pilot who stayed because of the additional money or jackets offered to them. Those dissatisfied with the life left, more money or not.

 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
Yeah, well the trouble of course with all of that is the idea that the Democrats in Congress are just now the ones who control such matters. Spending larger money on the military, at all, much less special forces, isn’t exactly a popular item, in the halls of Congress, thereby.
I’m pretty Conservative and I’m going to tell you that you’re off base making this a partisan issue. It’s hard to expand the SpecOp’s Community because it’s like tryin to make more Lamborghini’s....you can but it’s not easy. Only a few folks apply for the slots and not that many folks make it thru the process. It’s at LEAST a year or more to make a Ranger, entry-level operator, the Q-Course for Special Forces (Green Berets) lasts 6 months to a year, and then there is the OTJT... it’s about the same to make a SEAL and Delta or whatever it is called these days, first does not take entries at all, but talks to YOU after you’ve served, so that’s a year or so, plus a lengthy selection and training regime. On top of that it takes a year or so for an "operator" to shake down into the team he is assigned to. So for Rangers, Gren Berets and SEALs you’re looking at 2-2.5 years to make a good one, and longer for a Delta squaddie. It takes time and lots of money and a LOT of applicants to produce good SpecOps troopers, or at least that’s everthing I’ve ever read. So it’s not that Democrats don’t like SpecOps and won’t fund them, these are problems endemic to making SpecOps combat troops and certainly predate the ’06 Elections. Which seques to:
And dare I say this, the amount of special ops people going into the contracting buiness as opposed to being in uniform, is a direct result of the Democrats in Congress rasing hell about special ops which ARE a part of the military.
People in the SpecOp’s Community have been in the pipeline LONG before Pelosi came to power, so the effect of "liberal, smellie hippies hat’n da troops" won’t be seen for 2-3 years. So you can’t blame Reid/Pelosi for problems today in terms of Rangers and the like. You can blame them for many things but I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for this.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
6 figure bonus is for an additional six years. In harm’s way. Not too much I’d say. and yes, if they are competing with contractors, at one end that’s bad - for the employer. But on the other, it means that labor (in this case the men) get paid more as there is no longer a monopsony (sp?)



 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
People in the SpecOp’s Community have been in the pipeline LONG before Pelosi came to power, so the effect of "liberal, smellie hippies hat’n da troops" won’t be seen for 2-3 years. So you can’t blame Reid/Pelosi for problems today in terms of Rangers and the like. You can blame them for many things but I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for this.
Yeah, I agree with you Joe. And I think your points are correct. It takes a while and a lot of volunteering to be in the SO community. For instance, Rangers recruit alot much among the airborne community as do SF (green berets). Because the guys who are in airborne units have already volunteered once, functioned well in an elite unit and will most likely adapt to the next step.

Delta Force, which is the elite of the elite, recruits among SF, Rangers, SEALs and AF SF. You don’t become a D-boy unless you’ve served and served well with one of the above.

So you can imagine the impact of losing a D-boy to a civilian contractor. And to a slightly lesser extent the same can be said of losing them from SF, Rangers, SEALs, etc.

You’ve got to stop that hemorrhaging first and then address the problems inherent in expanding the whole SOF community. It’s not an easy job.

I don’t think this will end up being a partisan problem.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I heard that working in security in a war zone like Iraq is one of the highest paid jobs you can get. Ex special military forces folk can do it for a year and almost retire on the wages they’re so high apparently. Far enough I say!
 
Written By: Paul
URL: http://link.bestcapetownvillas.com
Ex special military forces folk can do it for a year and almost retire on the wages they’re so high apparently.
Don’t know about "retire" it does run to $80K-150K, or so I’ve read....

I’m with you McQ this isn’t a partisan issue and if the R-’s come back to power in ’08 it’ll still be there confronting them. Though I believe that Iraq will be winding down, one way or another, and all the "plans" and "proposals" for a larger Army or SO Community will be placed by the wayside...but I’m a cynic.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Though I believe that Iraq will be winding down, one way or another, and all the "plans" and "proposals" for a larger Army or SO Community will be placed by the wayside...but I’m a cynic.
Don’t forget the Horn of Africa or the Philippines where we’re invested heavily with SO types right now.

Unless we simply abandon the GWoT, I’m not sure how either can be placed by the wayside given our experiences in Iraq/Afgh. They’ve shown us we must have both a larger army and more special operators if we think we might ever again be caught in the situation we now find ourselves in. And I think that’s a pretty reasonable assumption.

There’s a big argument right now going on in the military of how it should all be configured (and I hope to write something about that this weekend). I still like Thomas Barnett’s idea for the most part.

I can understand the cynicism, but the institutional inertia has already been set in motion and even if they want to set it aside, they may not be able too. In this case, that’s a good thing.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
How do you stand on the Marines to Afghanistan issue? Read Millet’s Semper Fi quite an enlightening work, especially on Marine/US involvement in Hispanioloa and Nicaragua. It appears that the Marines are heading back in time to the era 1904-1934 and being "colonial infantry" rather than an expeditionary force and a force-in-readiness.

I think you’re overall point about a larger Army and SO Community has merit, I was too focussed on Iraq.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I’m pretty Conservative and I’m going to tell you that you’re off base making this a partisan issue. It’s hard to expand the SpecOp’s Community because it’s like tryin to make more Lamborghini’s....you can but it’s not easy.
Oh, agreed, that far. Apparently I was less than clear about the line I was drawing. My bad. The point I was making was specific to the finacial end of things, and who controlled that. Specifically, I was speaking to the first line in the quote from James. I agree with him that its’ time to overhaul that pay structure... retention problems being what they are.... But the problem is (rest follows)

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
How do you stand on the Marines to Afghanistan issue?
You know, I really haven’t given it much thought. My initial reaction is I don’t care either way.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
its’ time to overhaul that pay structure... retention problems being what they are.... But the problem is (rest follows)
Well I don’t see the D-’s cutting funding of DoD, if there is politics it’ll be WITHIN the services, the pay structure is what it is and has been that way since Christ was a Corporal and you can bet that many won’t want to see it touched.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Not overtly, no, Joe, but considering the zeal with which some democrats in Congress are trying to remove us from the Middle East and hand victory to al-Qaida, I can’t help but wonder if funding for other areas of the military, such as pay increases for example, aren’t suffering. the conflict in funding questions for Iraq, cannot be without consequence.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
You can’t privatize war. Here’s the thing: If a nation (i.e., us) cannot find citizens to fight its wars as soldiers then there is something seriously wrong with: A) the health of the country; or B) the selection of wars.
 
Written By: David Shaughnessy
URL: http://
Here’s the thing: If a nation (i.e., us) cannot find citizens to fight its wars as soldiers then there is something seriously wrong with: A) the health of the country; or B) the selection of wars.
Thank GOD we don’t have that problem as neither the US military nor Blackwater is lacking in recruits. Just a hint Dave, in case you missed it, once AGAIN the US Army met it’s recruiting, retention and overall strength goals! So we aren’t lacking citizens willing to fight, good thing, eh?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Of course, the largest single hit on military retention recently was the Clinton Administration. Wait till you see the effect of round 2.
 
Written By: SDN
URL: http://
"You can’t privatize war."

Except for all those historical examples where mercenaries were widely and often successfully used. Besides, the contractors aren’t fighting the war, but guarding staff, running convoys, handling cafeterias.

The PMC also use non-American recruits, from countries like Peru, etc. If we poach their special ops to run private security, it would seem to be a good way to augment our forces. It’s interesting that all of the brouhaha is mainly at US employees. Ralph Peters even said the Peruvians and Ugandans had no problems!

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Harun ;

Indeed; Let’s take that a step further....is David now suggesting our enemies operating in the middle east are not private actors?

The issues that arrive consequentially from that statement, are interesting at least.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
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Written By: asd
URL: http://

 
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