Story by Patricia Dubiel on 04/04/2019Master Sgt. Darran Jay Tatum, command career counselor for JRTC and Fort Polk, said the retention mission for JRTC was to reenlist 116 Soldiers from across the following six units: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Operations Group; 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 353rd Infantry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment; and the 41st Transportation Company and 383rd Movement Control Team, both of 519th Military Police Battalion. The retention team exceeded that goal by reenlisting 129.
"This is important because it helps the Army meet its end strength," said Tatum, who has operational supervision over the retention team.
Reaching that goal was a matter of balancing what the Army needs with what individual Soldiers want, according to Sgt. Thomas Bates, retention NCO for 3rd Bn, 353rd Inf Reg. This unit is considered one of the most difficult for Soldier retention because of the unique skillset of its dominant military occupational specialty, or MOS 09L, translator/interpreter.
"Soldiers in this unit are primarily 09L, and they get hand picked to deploy with the Security Force Assistance Brigades," he said. "So they are always either deployed or only have two duty stations available to them: Here and the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Sometimes 09Ls can also go to Fort Huachuca, Arizona for a broadening assignment, but not always. This limits some of their options."
To encourage these Soldiers to reenlist, Bates tries to find schools they can attend for possible MOS reclassification, which would expand their duty station options.
"Their main focus to improve their career is to re-class, so we try to find ways to do that for them," said Bates.
Staff Sgt. Stanley Ukalovich is the company retention NCO for the 41st Trans Co. He said he explained to his Soldiers there is more to reenlisting than the monetary bonus.
"Usually the Soldiers want to stay in, they just need a little time and sometimes they need a pep talk," he said. "I motivated them to reenlist by reminding them what an honor is it to serve our country."
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Wolf is the career NCO for the largest unit in the group, the 1st Bn (Abn), 509th Inf Reg. His task was challenging because he had to work around rotations, but he managed to use any down time in the box (the JRTC rotational training area) to talk to Soldiers about staying in.
"We're out on rotations for about a month, home for a week, then back out for a month, so a lot of my job has to do with timing," he said. "They tend to come into my office in waves, so I try to set things up to do as much as possible while we are in from the field. I also use the time we spend in the box to talk to Soldiers about retention. Word of mouth is vital, so Soldiers may hear about some of the options they have from each other, then they can find me and talk about it for clarification."
Sgt. 1st Class Claudio Delgado, Ops Group, said his unit has a high careerist population, with many additional skill identifiers, or ASIs, tacked onto their MOS.
"They are often offered bonuses because of their ASIs, and when they come into that reenlistment window, many of them are looking for career advancement," he said. "Many of our senior NCOs are very experienced, and they have good job opportunities on the outside, so we have to keep them in by encouraging them to stay so they can share their experience (with the next generation of Soldiers)."
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Drinkwater is the retention operations NCO for Headquarters, JRTC as well as the servicing career counselor for the 41st TC, 383rd and 1/5 Avn. His job is to assist the unit career counselors and retention NCOs by finding answers to questions that require input from higher echelons in the retention process, and to speak to Soldiers about their individual needs and goals.
"I'm the one that calls Human Resources Command to try to get the Soldiers what they want," he said. "A lot of the success we've had this time around can be attributed to more command involvement. We've got some tremendous leadership here from (Brig.) General (Patrick D.) Frank (JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general) all the way down the chain, and that's the biggest reason for the success. General Frank told the brigade, battalion and company commanders that they needed to start talking to their Soldiers about staying with the team, staying in the Army and it's been very positive."
If you would like more information about your Army career options, see your servicing career counselor or call Tatum at 531-7387.