SUNNY POINT, NC, UNITED STATES
Story by 1st Lt. Tracci Dorgan
South Carolina National Guard
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The number of Soldiers in the South Carolina Army National Guard is directly tied to recruiters finding qualified applicants to guide them in enlisting into the military. After the recruiters assist in the initial enlistment for the Soldiers, it is up to other Soldiers, battle-buddies, and leaders within the force to help retain those Soldiers to remain a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard.
In South Carolina Army National Guard units across the state, a retention specialist steps up to help keep Soldiers in the military. For example, due to the combined efforts of recruiters and retention specialists, the 1-178th Field Artillery Battalion, 678th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, is standing at 107 percent strength as of April 2019.
“It is important to keep qualified Soldiers in the ranks for more than eight years…that is where experience and continuity come from,” said U.S. Army Capt. Charles Burgess, 1-178th Field Artillery Battalion, Bravo Battery commander. “This is where the unit retention specialist steps in. The retention specialist tracks the unit’s enlistment contracts and continually educates Soldiers on reenlistment options.”
One of the retention specialists for the 1-178th Field Artillery Battalion is U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Thompson, Bravo Battery cannon crewmember.
“I focus on the list of Soldiers that are 180 days away from when their enlistment is done,” said Thompson. “I reach out to the Soldier and inform them on all opportunities available to them for reenlisting, focusing on their retirement plan or monetary bonuses. If they don’t reenlist right then, I talk to them every drill after, to see what their obstacles or objectives are and when or if they will reenlist…I think that my follow-up and discussing their obstacles makes them feel important by the fact that someone cares enough to address their concerns and that the unit actually cares what their future could hold.”
Thompson added, he’s seen the direct impact his efforts have had on the retention of Soldiers within Bravo Battery.
“I have been the retention specialist for about a year now, in that time, seven Soldiers decided to reenlist,” continued Thompson. “A few reenlisted for monetary bonuses and a few others did it to get a better retirement. To those getting closer to retirement I stress the need for their leadership, experience, and mentorship they bring to the younger Soldiers…I believe the monetary bonus was a good incentive, but it did not apply to everyone. Less than half were eligible, so I had to find a way to entice a Soldier who is considering getting out of the guard.”
Thompson’s efforts not only influence the careers of these Soldiers, but also impacts the ability of the unit to meet its mission.
“Recruiting and retention is what keeps our units strong,” said Burgess. “Young troops need seasoned leaders to train them and mentor them, and to encourage them to continue their military careers so they can become the future leaders that young troops will need.”
The Soldiers’ retention has also had a positive impact on Thompson.
“Being able to help someone to stay in the guard and progress in their military career when they initially wanted to get out is the best part of my retention specialist position,” added Thompson.
A Soldier who reenlisted this year was U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Jermain Jones, Bravo Battery first sergeant.
“I have been in the Guard for 28 years, always in Field Artillery,” said Jones. “I reenlisted for two more years so I could stay with my troops. I feel as though I provide good mentorship because I haven’t forgotten where I started out when I first enlisted in the guard and I want to provide them the information and leadership they deserve so they can have a great start to their career…Also, I don’t think I would know what to do without the guard since I’ve been in for so long. I would probably still wake up on a weekend thinking I’m late for drill.”
“I laugh a lot with my troops,” continued Jones. “I let them know I’m human and they can talk to me about anything and that they are an important part to the unit. I will really miss them when I do get out.”
By continuing to talk to Soldiers who are coming to the end of their enlistment and educate them on how the South Carolina National Guard can provide resources and opportunities for those who remain in, it can create a stronger force with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“The 1-178th Field Artillery Battalion has done a good job with retention by focusing on the needs of the Soldiers and their Families,” said U.S. Army 1St Sgt. Shayne Widner, South Carolina Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion noncommissioned officer in charge. “They also had a strong recruiting push to get more new Soldiers in.”
The South Carolina Army National Guard consists of more than 9,150 Soldiers assigned to Major Subordinate Commands across the state made up of numerous military occupational specialties. Current South Carolina Army National Guard Soldiers can learn more about resources and benefits available for reenlisting by contacting your unit retention specialist. To become a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard, contact a recruiter through the South Carolina National Guard mobile application available in respective app stores.