Soldiers not yet quitting over sequester

The sequester is causing the Army plenty of problems but retention is not one of them, according to the chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno. Not yet, at least. The military has given Congress and the president a mile-long list of reasons to cancel the mandatory across-the-board sequester cuts underway, from the inability to field ...

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The sequester is causing the Army plenty of problems but retention is not one of them, according to the chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno. Not yet, at least.

The military has given Congress and the president a mile-long list of reasons to cancel the mandatory across-the-board sequester cuts underway, from the inability to field intercontinental ballistic missiles to reduced shopping hours at grocery stores on military bases.

The latest warning from the top brass: the sequester could, might, just maybe, one day, possibly soon affect recruitment and retention.

The sequester is causing the Army plenty of problems but retention is not one of them, according to the chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno. Not yet, at least.

The military has given Congress and the president a mile-long list of reasons to cancel the mandatory across-the-board sequester cuts underway, from the inability to field intercontinental ballistic missiles to reduced shopping hours at grocery stores on military bases.

The latest warning from the top brass: the sequester could, might, just maybe, one day, possibly soon affect recruitment and retention.

But not yet. 

"We are not seeing any degradation in retention or our ability to recruit," Gen. Ray Odierno said at a Tuesday breakfast with reporters. "In fact last year, for the first time, not everybody who wanted to reenlist was able to. For us, that’s the first time that’s happened in a very long time. So our attrition rates are at historic lows."

To restate — the rate of soldiers leaving the Army is actually at a near all-time low.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said last month he worried troops may start to quit the Armed Forces because the sequester is cutting training budgets, which means less flying, sailing, and all the fun stuff that troops signed up to do.

"Today’s readiness challenges could indeed, lead to tomorrow’s retention challenges," Dempsey said. The chairman argued troops will not stomach being told to sit and wait out the sequester after so many years of high-tempo activity. "That will, I predict, impact retention." 

Odierno joined in Dempsey’s prediction that young adults may look elsewhere than the military for work, on Tuesday, saying, "As the economy improves, people might look to do some other things. But if we don’t have the money to train, and we don’t have the money to do the things we think we should be doing, it is going to have an impact."

On Thursday, the Pentagon released its latest recruitment and retention numbers with the Army logging 101 percent of its goal for the fiscal year through March, signing up 33,857 new personnel. The other services all met their attrition goals, DOD said. Only the Army Reserve is struggling to meet their recruiting goal, reporting 12,976 accessions, with a goal of 14,477 through March.

"Because soldiers, they want to be — the reason they want to stay in the army, they think it’s a good organization, they think its one that’s well trained, its one that’s well respected," Odierno said. "If they start to feel that we’re now not being funded or have the capability to do that, I think the natural instinct will be, maybe I’m going to do something else."

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.