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Initiatives targeted toward strengthening human resources

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The  Army is working on a variety of initiatives to ensure that its human resources remain strong and resilient even after nine years of conflict, Army and civilian leaders told an Institute of Land Warfare Contemporary Military Forum, "Manning the Army for the 21st Century," at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition .

The human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been high, said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, deputy chief of staff of the Army, G-1.

He said, "We’re operating at nine years of war. Our soldiers, our civilians, our families that support them, are under a significant amount of stress. In all of the negative indicators that one might look at are unfortunately up, whether it’s suicides, sexual harassment and assault, spouse abuse, child abuse, alcohol and drug abuse – sadly those numbers have all increased."

But the Army is carrying out several programs to help mitigate that situation, he said. The "number one factor" in stress is too short a time between deployments, he said.

Studies show that the optimum dwell time for a soldier is two to three years at home after a one-year deployment, and the army is working to get to that point so that soldiers have adequate time to recover after serving in a war.

More than 70 percent of the active duty army has deployed, said Maj. Gen. Gina Farrisee, commander of the Army Human Resources Command.

The most deployed officer specialties have been information operations, logistics, special forces, psychological operations, while for enlisted soldiers the most used professions are civil affairs, acquisition and psychological operations.

A temporary end-strength increase is helping to relieve some of that stress. The Army now has the authority to have up to 569,400 soldiers, but by September of 2013 that number has to be back down to 547,400.

The Army added 5,000 soldiers in Fiscal Year 2009 and 9,000 in Fiscal Year 2010, but is now facing a difficult balance because it doesn’t want to have too many soldiers in three years, Bostick said.

The Army is additionally challenged by an increasing number of "non-deployable" soldiers who, for various reasons like injuries, cannot deploy with their units. In an average brigade combat team in 2007, about 390 of its soldiers were not deployable,  Bostick said.

That number rose to 405 in 2008, 500 in 2009 and 570 this year. And when the army moves to a two-year dwell time after a deployment, that number will rise even more,  Bostick said. "It’s a huge issue across the army that we’ve got to fix."

But several initiatives are helping to make it easier to recruit and retain soldiers. Military pay has improved to the point where it is at the 80th percentile of comparable civilian jobs, said Sam Rutherford, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for military personnel.

In addition, a quadrennial review of compensation is under way, and is looking at issues like combat pay, guard and reserve pay, compensation for "wounded warriors," caregivers and survivors, and for "critical" professions like linguists, mental health providers and remotely piloted vehicle operators.

GI Bill benefits have been improved to include 36 months of tuition, living stipends and transferability to family members. While those initially raised concerns that people might leave the Army to gain access to those benefits, the results have been the opposite, and show that the improved benefits have improved retention, Rutherford added.

And the Army needs to work on improving its mental health programs to reduce the stress that leads to suicides and other mental health problems, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard Bureau. "The coping skills of our younger generation aren’t the same as what I had when I grew up: that is, the resilient piece that says you drive on no matter what." 

Carpenter said the Army should take inspiration from its physical fitness programs that take sometimes out-of-shape recruits and make them physically fit. The Army could do the same thing for mental fitness, he said.