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Hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Military Recruiting

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Military Recruiting

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA): Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's an honor to be here with you once again at the head table at this important hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee on military recruiting. And Senator Graham asked me to fill in for him. As you know, he's otherwise occupied with a military hero and expresses his regret to you and to our witnesses that he couldn't be here.

But I'm certainly glad to be once again with our members of the armed forces who are on the front lines of making sure that we continue to have in every branch of our service our fair share of the very finest young men and women that America has to offer.

I enjoyed our partnership in the 108th Congress during 2003-2004, and when I was chairman, you were ranking member. We had a lot of good times back then and accomplished an awful lot of positive things. We also paid an awful lot of attention then, as you have done since, to our men and women in the armed forces who have sacrificed so much and have performed so magnificently in the global war on terrorism. The changes we helped bring about during those two years were many and included substantial pay raises and increased bonuses for military personnel, reform of the survivor benefit plan to eliminate the old two-tier system for payment of benefits, elimination of many of the barriers to the concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veteran's disability compensation, expansion of Tricare coverage to Reservists and significant increases to Servicemembers Group Life Insurance and other benefits for the survivors of these brave men and women who die while serving on active duty.

I recall our field hearings at both Robins Air Force Base as well as Offutt in Nebraska where we heard directly from military spouses and families about the challenges they encounter in their daily lives. And as you and I know and Senator Webb knows, the families make just as much sacrifice as the men and women who serve on active duty and reserve duty. I congratulate you and Senator Graham for continuing that tradition and also on the enactment of the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008 which was signed into law a few days ago and for the many benefits and improvements to quality of life for servicemembers, including the landmark bipartisan legislation to aid wounded warriors and their families. I join you in welcoming the witnesses today. I look forward to hearing from these senior leaders and from the line recruiters on our second panel.

And I assure our witnesses that I and all the members of this committee appreciate your challenge. We place enormous value on your efforts in sustaining the all-volunteer force or, as you have said in your written statements, the all-recruited force. I conclude my remarks here. But I do want to thank each of you and all the members of your recruiting teams for the sacrifices and dedication you bring to this vitally important mission.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA): Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Let me continue down that line of education, because I know from talking to folks on active duty -- as well as folks in the Guard and Reserve -- that the desire to obtain money for a college education has been a key motivator for young men and women. It's been a key in successful recruiting also.

The services have not only attracted individuals who want to obtain an education, but have also retained individuals for careers while enabling them to achieve education goals. New proposals regarding the Montgomery GI Bill and other education benefits have been raised. And the president on Monday night talked specifically about the ability to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to dependents.

Let me ask you: How important do you view education benefits in attracting recruits? Do you think that the combination of educational benefits, including the so-called kickers or enhancements available, provide a sufficient benefit that balances the goals of recruiting and retention? And what changes in education benefits would you recommend?

General Bostick, let me start with you please, sir.

GEN. BOSTICK: This is a very, very important area. I was an instructor, a professor, up at West Point in engineering. My wife is a principal at an elementary school so we talk about education all the time. But education is very important for the United States Army and we're working it in several fashions.

I talked about March to Success and that program for the Army to do something in the area of education. And we're doing that from the testing end. We're also looking at an Army prep school down at Fort Jackson. And this is an opportunity to bring highly qualified young men and women, that don't have an education credential, to go into Fort Jackson -- our prep school which is going to start in May -- and earn their GED. Long-term, we want this to be a high school diploma producing institution.

We're also working with places like -- a location, a mall school in Pittsburgh. And at this mall school, what they're able to do is those that drop out of school go to this mall school. And at this mall school, they earn their degree from the high school that they dropped out of. So we're working with that organization to try to proliferate that in other locations throughout the country.

Now, as to college, most youngsters want to go to college and most parents would like them to go to college. So all of the college benefits that we have are very helpful for the United States Army, and I think for all of our services.

Some of the challenges for our soldiers have been -- especially in this high up-tempo environment -- to continue on with their education and to serve the United States Army in the way that they've been asked.

I was talking to our Command Sergeant Major Sparks who's working at our training and doctrine command. And he's leading an effort to build the college of the American soldier, where when you sign up to the United States Army, you're going to sign up for college at the same time and that's going to be very powerful.

And with the advent of the Internet and the many colleges that are involved in partnering with the Army to take the work that they do in basic training, in AIT, and credit those as legitimate college credits, whether they're medics or mechanics, signaliers or working with these institutions to ensure that they can earn their college, they can be in the Army at the same time. So all of these benefits are very, very important to us.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: In that regard -- I just wanted to ask one question -- in that regard, do you find that retention improves once you have a career established for them where they get their education, they get to be in a field that they're interested in? Does that positively affect, as I would hope that it would, retention?

GEN. BOSTICK: We think it's very important. I don't have the correlations directly to retention, but I can give you, for example, we had about 260,000 soldiers taking tuition assistance courses last year -- so while they're in the Army, some of them in Iraq and Afghanistan, 260,000 soldiers. We spent about $140 million on tuition assistance. So education is very important. We talk to the soldiers about it, and we encourage them to do it while they're in their careers in the Army. Now, some take this on after they leave the service. And working with the Veterans Department, we've had over $1 billion that has been spent on regular Army veterans to earn their education.

So whether they do it inside the Army or post their Army career, that's up to them. But we're trying to build a pathway throughout their career where they can earn it from day one. And whether they end up with a bachelor's degree or master's degree or Ph.D. that's really up to how hard they would like to work in their career.

SEN. NELSON: (Inaudible) -- sorry -- (inaudible).

SEN. CHAMBLISS: No, no, that's fine. While we're talking about particularly the issue relative to primarily Army soldiers being in Iraq taking college courses over the Internet, I was amazed, General, at the number of young folks that I talked to on every visit I've had over there that are doing exactly that. And that was one reason for my question. And while it may have seemed that I was honing in on Montgomery benefits, I really am particularly interested in active duty benefits that you're giving to these young folks, too, and the opportunities that you're giving them.

And I should know the answer to this, but I don't. But I'm assuming that is independent of Montgomery bill benefits. Is that correct?

GEN. BOSTICK: The tuition assistance?

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Yes.

GEN. BOSTICK: Yes.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Okay.

ADM. KILKENNY: Sir, we completely value education in the Navy. What we attempted to do this past year was look at where we think there's some interests in the community college market. We think it's very big. We started a program called Accelerate to Excellence where we will get somebody into the United States Navy, send them to boot camp. And at the end of boot camp, they will go back and finish their associate's degree while they're going through their A school for their skill set in the United States Navy.

Last year, we did it with aviation ratings down in the Pensacola area. We partner with the junior colleges to allow them to get credit and their associate's degree for some of the courses they're taking and their skill sets in the Navy. And we're finding that there's an active interest in that program.

Again, this year, we want to collect some data, how much of a market is there. But there's a lot of folks that can't afford to go to four-year colleges that go to community colleges for the reasons I alluded to earlier. They're staying around to help mom and dad earn a little bit of money, and I think there's an opportunity. But clearly, in every brief we get on the young generations of today, the millenial's education is talked about from them from the time they're about 4-years old. So it's clearly very important in their world, and it's very important for us to find ways to get at education prior to them coming in, when they're coming in and when they decide to leave. It's very important.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: General.

GEN. VAUTRINOT: Sir, let me point out first that recruiting falls under the Air Education and Training Command all working together. And Air University has had some great, great success in both the efforts that we have for recruiting and the retention that Senator Nelson mentioned.

First, let me talk about Community College of the Air Force. In 1972 it was started. We've graduated over 320,000 young airmen with associate degrees, over 17,000 last year alone, and that is a full accredited associate degree. More importantly, the Air University has just started a program called the Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative, over 25 universities with 45 majors that provide the opportunity for each airman with a Community College of the Air Force degree, an associate degree, 12 clicks on your computer, and you are a junior in college. Every one of your associate degree credits towards your bachelor's degree. It is entirely portable. And as you point out, all our airmen in the field, all those that are deployed have the opportunity to continue their education towards that baccalaureate with every single one of those credits counting. And that program is in addition to tuition assistance.

And I want to thank you also, sir, for your work on military health care and for the Montgomery GI Bill which helps them if they decide to leave the Air Force. But this program helps us to retain them and have them better educated to meet the new mission.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: General Tryon.

GEN. TRYON: Sir, our emphasis on education begins with attracting the quality youngsters from high schools and brining them into the Marine Corps. We, like the other services, have a raft of programs which permits our youngsters to continue, our Marines to continue on with their education in a variety of areas. The online education we find these days is incredibly advantageous to our forces, particularly given the fact that so many Marines are deployed in an expeditionary profile. Being able to get online and to access through tuition assistance programs or other programs an advanced education is very, very useful for us.

As a discrete incentive for recruiting, again, we concentrate on attracting those youngsters who want to Marines first and foremost, not specifically for the purpose of continuing their college education. However, when they come to us, 96 percent of them are high school graduates. They've been raised in an environment and a culture where they prize the value of an education. And so we are in a position with the benefits that have been provided by this committee to help them achieve their goals.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Very good. This subcommittee recognized shortfalls in medical professionals back in 2006 and responded with an enhancement of bonus authorities and stipends for Medical and Dental Corps officers in both active and Reserve components. And I have two questions for you on this. Number one, are the expanded authorities being utilized and funded by the services? And secondly, is money enough? In other words, based on your experience with recruiting in the medical field, are there other non-monetary incentives that either the services by policy or Congress should adopt to improve our recruiting successes there?

Again, General Bostick, let's start with you.

GEN. BOSTICK: First, I'd like to thank you for the language that included and focused on the medical professionals. This has been a very challenging area for us. We've worked it very hard. Last year, there was a good improvement in our Nurse Corps. We're still challenged in our Dental Corps, and we're challenged in our Medical Corps, especially in the four-year scholarship, the health professional scholarship program. So this is very important. And the bonus that you approved for the critical skills bonus that is available to those that I just talked about, it is very important to them.

Also important in this language is the mandatory service obligation and the reduced mandatory service obligation, particularly for our Army Reserve medical professionals.

Also important in this language is we have a 2k referral program that we have. And it doesn't seem like much maybe in the medical profession, but a lot of them they know friends, they know other associates that might want to join. And word of mouth really helps us in recruiting, and having that 2k referral, just like we have for the enlisted on the officer medical side, is going to make a difference. It may be something we want to look at increasing in the future if this works out well for us. But this is a challenging area. We continue to work it very hard. But we appreciate the support that you've provided to us.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Admiral Kilkenny.

ADM. KILKENNY: Sir, absolutely, your support of us and these initiatives has been very beneficial. I alluded to in my statement that in the last three years, based on your authority given us to increase nurse bonuses, we succeeded in mission last year. Every year that we increased the stipend we've increased our numbers.

And we're happy to report that this year, based on the initiatives that you've authorized us, and the Navy's going to do these initiatives, we've seen an increased activity that we haven't seen in the past, particularly in the HPSP for the medical students. Right now, we're anxiously awaiting the February-to-March time frame as when most of when the medical schools make a determination on the students they're going to accept. But we've seen an increase in activity and interest in the Navy's medical program based on what you've given us and very appreciative of that.

GEN. VAUTRINOT: Let me begin with scholarships. We have been very successful in the grow-your-own program I discussed and in scholarships. And we've been able to meet 100 percent of those scholarships. And this year, it looks like we're going to increase those as well. The Air Force did support the increase in scholarships and intends to do so next year as well. So thank you for your support in the bill.

In addition, particularly with our medical professionals, there are different areas that they like to see support. We've seen success in the financial assistance program for physicians. That's the combined 42,000 (dollars) per year. We had 22 of the 33 available used last year. With regard to the accession bonuses for dentists, in the previous year, we filled all of those slots for dentists. While there is no accession bonus this year, the loan repayment is working very well. And then, of course, as my compatriots have pointed out, we've done very well in the nursing program.

We find also that the ability to more rapidly bring those folks into the United States military is very important. The processing for our medical professionals is somewhat long and tends to be very serial. So anything that you could do on your committee that could either put legislation for parallel processing or could perhaps put some words in the policy that allow our general (counsels ?) to bring those folks through a little more quickly would be very much appreciated.

So we are continuing to expand that, and we thank you for your support.

GEN. TRYON: Sir, I defer to Admiral Kilkenny with respect to the medical recruiting. I applaud his great efforts. (Laughter.) And I would also just pass along that the quality of the doctors and the corpsmen that work with and serve alongside Marines is absolutely superb. Thank the Navy for that.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: General V8 -- (laughter) --

GEN. VAUTRINOT: If you could think of the engine instead of tomato juice sir, that's -- (laughter) --

SEN. CHAMBLISS: There you go! It's interesting you make that comment about speeding up the process.

And that is something surely, Mr. Chairman, that we ought to be able to work on. And I'd just tell staff let's be sure we look very closely at this and work with all of you with respect to seeing how we can make sure that whatever paperwork or whatever the hold ups in the bureaucracy are can be eliminated, not circumvented by any means, but that we do everything we can to try to speed that process up. That should be easy for us.

So thank you very much for that.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, guys, there is a lot of pressure on you obviously -- to meet goals, there are incentives out there and obviously I know you have to watch that very close.

One issue that we have, as a general population issue in America, is the issue of obesity. When you have a potential recruit coming in to see you, sometimes I'm sure you can tell that they have some physical issues, and sometimes probably you don't even know that they do. But we've heard from some of the trainers -- sergeants around the country from each branch of the military, that they're getting some kids in in greater numbers now that don't have the physical qualities that they need to have, or that they expect.

From a recruiting standpoint, what do you tell your recruiters? What do you tell them to look for? Are they aware of these issues? And, what are you telling potential recruits, or, what are your folks telling those potential recruits about what kind of shape they need to be in to be a Marine? Or, what is the lay of the land out there with respect to this issue in each service?

SGT BRITTON: With the Marine Corps, sir, these individuals understand that they need to be in a certain physical shape -- not in peak physical shape, to begin recruit training because that is what Marine Corps recruit training is for. Before they get there to start the process, it is our job as recruiters to get them to that appropriate first level.

I know in our -- in our offices we have a meeting once a month on a Saturday, and each week on every Tuesday and Thursday, where our future Marines come in; they'll run with the Marines at the office; go to the gym -- anything to get them in shape and get them prepared for recruit training.

As far as running into a lot of problems with people coming in -- the obesity issue, the way we address that, if they are grossly overweight we kind of put it -- put it on them. We invite them to come work out with us. It's showing dedication to a goal that they want to achieve if they're serious about it. And if, indeed, they are serious, they will lose the weight and, ultimately, begin their journey to becoming a U.S. Marine.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: No way a fat guy like me can scale -- (laughter) -- that mountain in your ad on TV.

Sergeant?

SGT. WHITE: Sir, like the other branches of service, we have height and weight standards that we must abide by. And when we sit down with an applicant, we go over that. And on the initial visit we'll take an estimated height and weight from the applicant. And, really, that's our starting point with them -- to determine whether we should go on with the process or not.

It's really -- it's on the applicant to lose the weight. However, I don't know of a recruiter out there that's not willing to go out there and run with them. I've had physician recruiters go out and run with doctors to lose the weight so that they could enter the Air Force. It happens. And that's what recruiters do, they're willing to go the extra mile, but the applicant has to kind of meet us half way, so that they can, in fact, meet those standards and begin the processing.

PETTY OFFICER BRUMMER: Sir, for the United States Navy, as Admiral Kilkenny mentioned earlier, we have implemented numerous different projects -- in the Delayed Entry Program with YMCA passes to help work out, and -- you know, men and women who join the United States Navy, they don't want to go to boot camp to fail. So we do our best, as possible, to encourage young men and women to work out.

Our sailors out there that are recruiters, they're leading the charge. And we've also had some of our retired, or previous service SEALS, that help mentor. So it's about lead, mentor and train. And we're making sure that the recruiters that are out there are equipped, and it's been a -- it's been a great opportunity. They know exactly what's expected of them.

SGT. WEBB: Sir, the height and weight standard is the height and weight standard. However, I'm one of those few that would like to see it changed a little bit. It's changed since 2003, but the standard, I think, was set many, many years ago.

Unfortunately, we have McDonalds and Burger King on every corner. And the generation that we're dealing with every day, they -- they're more involved in their computer, and their PlayStation and their Xbox, so they stay inside the house. They don't get out and run the hills of West Virginia like I did, and stay mean and lean.

But, you know, we encourage recruiters to get out there and help the kids. Got to go to a story again: I went to a Wal-Mart, and I had to get tires on my vehicle. And while I was waiting to get my tires done, I walked down the gaming aisle -- and I wanted to waste some time while I was getting tires on my vehicle. I saw a guy who was working in the tire area, and he was playing Tiger Woods -- and I'm a big golfer.

So he said, do you want to play a hole, and I'll play a hole? So we -- back and forth, playing Tiger Woods on the PlayStation. And I never said a word about the Army -- and I'm in unformed. Well, the second day I showed up because I had to get tires on my back, they didn't have them in stock.

And he said, after a little bit of playing the game, he said, you know, you've been here two days and you not once mentioned the Army to me. I see your recruiter patch, I know you're a recruiter. I said, well, Steve -- name tag, I said, the way I see it, if you're interested in the Army you will talk to me about the Army. And he said, well, I've been told all my life that I'm a fat boy. And he -- this guy was 5 foot, 9, 269 pounds, so he was obviously over the standard.

So I talked to Steve at length about -- you know, you take two weeks of your own time and you show some progress, and I'll be glad to work with you. And in two weeks, this guy lost 15 pounds on his own time. I took the next three months working every morning with this guy. I would meet him at 6:00 in the morning, two hours before I even had to be at work, just because he had a desire, a strong desire. He did four years JROTC in high school, and he just had a strong desire to serve his country. And I took the time out to help him out.

But, you know, we have the ARMS test even, that allows recruits to -- and the General alluded to what the acronym stands for, it allows recruits to meet the physical endurance, along with cardio endurance. It measures -- it's able to measure that. But I would like to see it changed even more so than what it has.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Did he make it?

SGT. WEBB: Absolutely, he made it. He's been to Iraq two tours. He's -- he's already a staff sergeant. He threatens to pass my rank up. (Laughter.)

SEN. CHAMBLISS: I'm betting on you, sergeant. (Laughter.) We are constantly looking for policy changes that we need to make to make your life better. To make it easier, as well as to make the life of our men and women in uniform better. Do you any of you have any suggestions of any additional tools that we need to give you to make sure that you're able to do your job in a very professional way?

Sergeant Britton?

SGT. BRITTON: Sir, I feel one of -- one of the difficult things that we experience in our area sometimes involves the obtainment of lists of names of seniors from some of the local schools.

A lot of times what happens -- even though the lists are supposed to be released, what's happening there, they're giving out forms for the parents to sign, so our names -- their names won't be on the list that we receive from the school, if we even get the list from the school.

The reason those lists are so important -- obviously, not everyone on, you know, in that senior class is going to join the Marine Corps or any branch of the military, but it's our job as recruiters to go out there and contact as many of these young individuals as we can to, hopefully, have an impact on somebody's life.

Even if it's not joining the Marine Corps or one of the other branches, at least, maybe -- sometimes, you know, I've talked to young men before that weren't going to join the Marine Corps, but at the same time they didn't know what they were going to do. After we were finished talking, the guy ends up starting college.

You know, it's -- it just works out better for everybody that way. That way, not only do we help that young man or woman to become successful and start their journey, it allows us to do our job, and greater -- contribute to the community in really returning the citizens -- you know, well-trained citizens back to the community where we took them from once they decide to get out of the Marine Corps.

And it starts right there. That's probably the biggest thing that I would change if I had it to do, sir -- the better attainment of lists from the schools and a little bit more cooperation. Not in all cases, obviously, that's not happening, but there's some cases out there where I think they may be trying to find a loophole in the law that was passed. And I think that's something that should be addressed, sir.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Okay.

(Cross talk.)

SGT. WHITE: Well, sir, as General Vautrinot pointed out, our (scroll ?) process in getting health professionals approved, comes through this office. And, as you stated, you were willing to look into that, and we thank you for that. That would be a tremendous asset in expediting some of our health professionals on active duty.

The other thing would be the increase in bonuses for health professionals. And, again, we thank you for the funding. However, some of that funding doesn't necessarily filter down through each branch equally. There are different incentives in different programs. And, as we see it from the Air Force, we're now competing against our brothers and sisters in arms, in a very competitive market, for these health professionals. And what I would ask, that if we do some equal approval on bonuses for health professions, as I believe all branches are hurting in that field.

PETTY OFFICER BRUMMER: Sir, for the United States Navy, I would say that -- really appreciate the continued support on the bonuses. It's allowed us, as recruiters, to focus on the needs of the Navy, and be flexible on the different communities, such as medical, and for the Navy SEAL and the G-WATT (ph) ratings. Again, I thank you for that support, and that's the continued support that every recruiter out there enjoys for some of these tough fail ratings during this time of need.

SGT. WEBB: In my area of Charleston, West Virginia, sir, the education system seems to be failing. I don't know the way they're even teaching math. When I was in school, we didn't have a calculator. The generation now, they get taught math with a calculator. I think one tool that would be helpful to all the branches is maybe allowing a calculator, with this new millennium, to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test.

I don't know if you, if you just asked around the room, you'll probably find -- what's your worst subject in school?, a lot of the people in here are going to say math. I mean, they can't even carry the one, if you will. So maybe if you, if it was implemented that they can use a calculator on taking the ASVAB, you'll probably see a spike in the mathematics section of the ASVAB.

And the measurement -- the AFQT is the score -- the entry level score, and that AFQT score comes from math knowledge, arithmetic reasoning, paragraph comprehension, and reading -- or word knowledge, rather. And I think the biggest problem is they can't pass the math because they're so used to using that calculator. So that would be the one thing I would like to change.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Yeah, that's -- that's a good point.

Well, you guys just know that we all do this, but I make it a particular point to visit with enlisted personnel, whether I'm on a base, CONUS or overseas. And in visiting with enlisted personnel over the last 13 years, I am so impressed with the quality of young men and women that you all are recruiting in every branch.

And we thank you for the great job you're doing. We thank you for your commitment to freedom, and we thank you for your sacrifice that you're making on behalf of all Americans. And thanks for being here today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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