News: 2nd Brigade Combat Team Retention: Career counselors help soldiers
Story by Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio
FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Six paratroopers stood at the position of attention infront of a fluttering American flag, their right hands raised, repeating the same oath they swore years ago. Overseeing the re-enlistment ceremony was United States Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr.
Although more than 600 2nd Brigade Combat Team troopers reenlist each year, not all have the opportunity for their ceremony to be conducted by such a high-ranking official. Any commissioned officer of any military branch, active duty or retired, can reenlist a soldier. "Some like to keep it in-house," said Staff Sgt. Shane Hewitt, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2BCT's career counselor, by having their commanders conduct the ceremony. However, others choose to be sworn in by friends or family members.
There are also many choices for soldiers when it comes to the ceremony itself, Hewitt said, as long as it does not cause harm to those involved and is not disrespectful. He has planned reenlistment ceremonies at restaurants off of Fort Bragg, on drop zones, as well as on a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft prior to an airborne operation.
Soldiers also have numerous reenlistment options and several incentives that come along with the decision. Career counselors offer reenlistment publicity items, also known as "re-up goodies", to soldiers who reenlist to stay with the brigade. These gifts range from hats and knives, to sports helmets and plaques, all embellished with the unit's crest or motto or the 2BCT retention slogan, "Stay Falcons". Counselors work closely with vendors who make and sell the personalized items. "We can get almost anything," Hewitt said.
Another prize for XVIII Airborne Corps soldiers who re-enlist to remain with their peers is a special airborne operation scheduled for June 11; a tailgate jump from a C-130 Hercules aircraft. This will be the first jump of its kind since 2003, said Sgt. First Class Matthew Bailey, 2BCT's acting career counselor. Two hundred jumpers will participate in the event, with 40 parachutes reserved for 2BCT reenlistees.
Soldiers have five re-enlistment options; regular Army re-enlistment, unit stabilization, re-class to a new military occupation specialty, overseas station, and station of choice in the continental United States. Cash bonuses are also available for some MOS's, which are tax-free while the soldier is deployed to a combat zone. "Nothing satisfies me more than getting my soldiers what they want," Hewitt said.
However, because 2BCT career counselors are ahead of their quota for the fiscal year, soldiers reenlisting before October 1, 2010 will have fewer options, Bailey said. Reenlisting at the beginning of the fiscal year offers soldiers more choices and better benefits.
Hewitt said he suggests to Soldiers that they travel and consider moving to different duty stations upon reenlistment, both in the United States and abroad. He also encourages them to talk to their families before making their choice, and even bring their spouses in to talk to the counselor face-to-face so there is no confusion. "It's like buying a house, a car or a flat screen. It's a big decision," he said. His goal is to make sure they have all the information they need to make that decision. "When they leave my office, they don't have any questions."
The amount of Soldiers who reenlist to move versus those who choose to stay with the brigade is about 50/50, Bailey said. While younger soldiers on their first reenlistment want to see the rest of the Army, most older soldiers, those who have served 10 years or more, usually stay because they're established in the unit. More than likely, they have deployed with their peers and have earned their respect. "Why would you want to go somewhere new and deploy with people you don't know, when you can go with people you trust," Hewitt said.
He said he does not force Soldiers to re-up to stay in the brigade or even to reenlist at all. "If you pressure them, it makes them feel uncomfortable," he said, which can cause the soldier to distrust the counselor, and therefore, not reenlist. "This is one of the most historic brigades in the Army," Bailey said. However, some soldiers decide to move to non-airborne units because they're tired of jumping or due to injuries. "It's not for everybody," he said. "The key is to keep them in the Army."