Defense considering longer tours of duty, more flexible retention rules

The Defense Department's senior personnel official said last week that modifying current "up-or-out" retention rules and establishing longer tours of duty might better serve members and their families. David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters Aug. 8 at the Pentagon that Defense is looking at personnel rules that impel service members to move frequently to secure promotions and possibly leave jobs they enjoy and are good at, or leave the force. Critics of current military personnel practices "would say we've driven the 'up-or-out' principle, both in the officer and enlisted force, a little bit too far," Chu said. "You have a situation now where you might have a guy who is maybe ideally suited to be the best tanker out there. … He loves it, but in order for him to advance, he has to leave that job," Chu said of a possible dilemma facing some enlisted and noncommissioned officers. He also cited the lament of senior officers who were once pilots: "The worst day of my life was the day I got promoted and I can't fly anymore." Chu added that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "is deeply skeptical about the pattern in which people spend so short a time in each post." The Secretary, Chu said, has lately asked about the practicality of having troops, especially commanders, serving in billets for two years or less. Lengthening tours of duty, Chu said, would enable service members to "stay in a post longer, become more proficient at it and give more value back during that period of time." Defense officials have looked at the Coast Guard approach that results in somewhat longer tours on average, Chu said. However, he added, longer tours means "people have fewer different experiences in preparing them for more senior responsibilities. "And the issue, of course, is, can I substitute some other vehicle for giving them that preparation than actually doing a job at some other level?" Longer tours could also help reduce the frequent moves that disrupt service members' families, Chu noted. "You get these evocative stories of senior officers who … in 35 years in the service have moved 50 times … and that is, unfortunately, true," he said. "One of the reasons I do think we get people declining assignments that in the past have been seen as plum jobs is because the families have said, 'We've had it, you know? We're not moving.'" As the military has become an increasingly married force, Chu wondered aloud, is the Defense Department "providing the kind of environment that an American family in the early 21st century will find attractive, or are we demanding so much, that is, so badly undercutting family life, that we are turning away many talented people either from our service in general or from specific assignments?" Senior Pentagon civilian and military officials have been studying Defense operations, to include personnel, as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review. Mandated by Congress and conducted every four years, the Quadrennial Defense Review evaluates U.S. military strategy, force structure and resource management. The current review, due to Congress Sept. 30, will be used as a blueprint to transform the U.S. military for the 21st century.
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