NEWS | Feb. 21, 2024

MDW recognizes excellence in Army retention

By Master Sgt. Will Reinier JTF-NCR/MDW

Maj. Gen. Trevor Bredenkamp, commanding general of U.S. Army Military District of Washington, recognized eight career counselors during a ceremony at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., Feb. 20, 2024.

The career counselors each received a Retention Excellence Award for their efforts in counseling and supporting Soldiers to continue service in meaningful ways. Combined, they helped the command achieve 136% of last year’s retention mission and reenlisted a total of 527 Soldiers who were set to leave the service before the end of fiscal year 2024.

“I look at our stats every week,” Bredenkamp said, “and frankly, I’m amazed at how well we’re doing.”

As the Army faces its most challenging recruiting environment in a generation, commands set ambitious retention goals to ensure the Army is keeping qualified Soldiers in its ranks. These goals are calculated by looking at projected Army end-strength gains and losses, and missions are assigned to Army commands by a fair-share ratio of eligible Soldiers in the upcoming fiscal year.

“If people don’t reenlist, we don’t have an Army,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen Hughes, one of the career counselors recognized at the ceremony, who oversees retention for Fort Meade, Maryland.

Hughes has the task of retaining members of The U.S. Army Field Band - an organization that travels the country, connecting America to its Army. This, in part, limits options available when they sign a new enlistment contract.

“The Field Band has permanent duty at Fort Meade, so they can’t [change duty stations],” he said. “But they’re professionals at the highest level, they have opportunities to leave [the Army] and go somewhere else.”

Master Sgt. Esteban Figueroa, senior career counselor for the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), said many times when Soldiers reenlist it’s because they feel called to service.

“It shows there’s something more important than themselves that they’re contributing to,” Figueroa said.

That call to service is partly why Fort Meade, to include The U.S. Army Field Band, achieved a 168% retention rate last fiscal year. A banner year for Hughes, who was also recently named MDW Career Counselor of the Year and will compete at the Army level this summer.

Understanding the options available for a Soldier at their reenlistment is a key aspect of a career counselor’s job. However, Staff Sgt. Terry Turner, the 4th Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) career counselor, said it comes down to leaders knowing their Soldiers well enough to know which opportunities are the best fit.

“Not every Soldier is the same,” she said. “It’s important that every leader understands that so they know how to lead that Soldier.”

“Understanding their goals and how I can help them get there is the most important part for me.”

Sgt. Rhianna Ballenger said her experience with the career counselor made a huge impact on her decision to reenlist.

“It was a breath of fresh air to have someone that cared about my goals and worked as fast as he did to get me there,” she said, noting that the process was a lot smoother than she expected.

“That’s pretty untypical I feel like.”

On Feb. 14, Ballenger reenlisted for three years and the opportunity to change her military occupational specialty to become a public affairs mass communication specialist.

“The Army was still very much in line with my goals,” she said. “I wasn’t entirely sure if I was ready to give it up, so I was very happy to stay in the Army at least a little bit longer.”

Hughes believes good retention experiences like this are leader-driven, and they make a difference in the program’s success.

“Platoon sergeants and first sergeants really set the climate that makes retention happen or not,” he said. “We provide options, talk about their goals, and what they want out of the Army. But the real money maker is when they go back to their unit and talk to other Soldiers and leaders about their experiences.”

His advice to leaders: “Take care of your Soldiers. That’s what’s going to help retention.”

Maj. Gen. Bredenkamp said as good as fiscal year 2023 was, he’s even more optimistic for 2024. U.S. Army Military District of Washington projects it will meet its entire 2024 mission by the end February - more than seven months before the close of the fiscal year.

“That’s a testament to our retention professionals,” Bredenkamp said. “Job incredibly well done. Thank you.”