Academic journal article Military Review

Military Retention Intangibles: Esprit, Morale and Cohesion

Academic journal article Military Review

Military Retention Intangibles: Esprit, Morale and Cohesion

Article excerpt

As the US Army approaches its 225th birthday in the year 2000, it is of critical importance that all service members do their utmost to stem the tide of experienced noncommissioned officers and junior officers leaving the service. As the author maintained before the House Armed Services Committee: "Congress can help with military retention via pay and recognition, but only the military can build and maintain Espritthat indescribable something- that makes them want to stay."

THE SHIFT IN THE 1970s from a conscript military to an All-Volunteer Force helped build one of history's most dominant militaries. Yet, despite battlefield successes with minimal casualties in the 1990s, the US military is losing a battle of attrition. The military can no longer retain the number of experienced noncommissioned officers and junior officers it needs to maintain required end strength.1

Many leave the military to take higher-paying jobs in the private sector. Industry seeks talent and is willing to pay for it during strong economic periods, and talent abounds among the military's "best and brightest." Military members constitute a loyal, self-disciplined work force, superbly trained and educated to run a high-tech military that is the envy of the world. The military must compete with industry to retain those it needs, yet it does not have the power to negotiate salaries in the same fashion as the private sector.

In this year that I have labeled the "Year of the Troops," Congress will do its part to help keep military pay and benefits competitive. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 authorizes a 4.8 percent pay raise across the board, with selected midgrade raises as high as a 9.9 percent. This is the single highest pay raise since the 1979-1981 period, when Congress was grappling with the ghastly manpower problems of the "hollow force." Congressional action to reform retirement pay should also help with retention.2

It's not just about money, however. A more oftcited factor for leaving the military is that-after winning the Cold War and downsizing-our military fords itself busier than ever, protecting American interests around the world. This translates to longer and more frequent periods away from home for those fewer personnel remaining. Simply put, a higher operations tempo is wearing out the troops, and in the aggregate, they are giving notice with their feet.

In spite of this, retention and morale have been highest in deployed units. I have had the opportunity to talk with troops in the field, most recently in

Bosnia, and their morale was sky-high. Their retention numbers were equally as impressive. Why? They weren't getting paid much more, and they were separated from their families. Yet, by and large, they were happy and they were re-enlisting. Maybe the extra pay, such as hazardous duty pay and family separation allowance, made a difference. Maybe it's because they were doing what they signed up to do, making the world a better, safer place. Maybe. But, judging by the gleam I saw in their eyes and the pride they displayed, I say that Esprit was the difference.

As I stated in the 24 February 1999, House Armed Services Committee hearing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress can help with military retention via pay and recognition, but only the military can build and maintain esprit-that indescribable something-that makes them want to stay. I'm not just talking about leadership by the service chiefs; I'm talking about deckplate leadership-leadership in the field and on the runway-at all levels of command, from junior enlisted to senior officer.

Esprit, Morale and Cohesion Defined

In my statement it to the Joint Chiefs, I talked only about esprit. In addition to esprit, morale and cohesion may also be important to retention, while most certainly being key to combat effectiveness.

Most military personnel know esprit as unit pride, that common spirit of enthusiasm, devotion and collective honor. …

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