Too Many Months of Military Deployment Can Reduce Reenlistment Rates

For Release

October 7, 2009

Although U.S. Army deployments have been linked positively to the likelihood of reenlisting for much of the past decade, a new RAND Corporation study shows that by 2006 the mounting burden of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan reached the point where deployment had a negative effect on reenlistment.

However, the increased rate of deployment did not reduce reenlistment rates through 2007 for any of the three other branches of the U.S. military.

"While the U.S. military has been able to use bonuses and other methods to maintain reenlistment levels, policymakers still must realize that if military personnel are deployed too long or too often it can discourage reenlistment," said James Hosek, the study's lead author and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the longest military engagements since the Vietnam War and are the most severe test to date for the nation's all-volunteer military force. More than 1.8 million people have been deployed since 2002, many of them more than once.

Since 2004, about 80 percent of the Army soldiers and Marines at first-term reenlistment were deployed at least once in the preceding three years, up from 30 percent in 1996, the first year studied. Similarly, 70 percent of sailors and 50 percent of airmen had been deployed, up from roughly 50 percent and 30 percent in 1996.

Military service members typically receive higher pay while deployed, but the Army experience shows that despite those benefits, reenlistment can decline if military personnel are deployed too extensively.

Hosek and study co-author Francisco Martorell found that the Army's expanded use of reenlistment bonuses did help to counteract the negative effect of deployment on reenlistment. The percentage of reenlisting Army soldiers who received a bonus increased from 15 percent in 2003-2004 to nearly 80 percent in 2005-2007, while the average value of the bonuses increased by more than 50 percent. Bonus usage at second-term reenlistment also increased, although not as much.

The increase in deployments affected the four branches of service differently. In the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, deployment had little or no effect on first-term reenlistment. The effect on second-term reenlistment was positive in the late 1990s, near zero in 2003, and trended up to 2007. The effect on Army first- and second-term reenlistments was positive from 1996 to 2005, though trending downward, and decreased sharply to become negative in 2006.

The RAND analysis traced the negative effect of deployment on Army reenlistment in 2006-2007 to high total months of deployment during the term of service. By 2006, two-thirds of soldiers at first-term reenlistment had 12 or more total months of deployment in the previous three years.

Those lengths of deployment were much higher than those experienced by Marines, sailors and airmen. Having 12 or more months of deployment had a notably negative effect on reenlistment, even more so for soldiers with 18 or more months of deployment. In contrast, having fewer than 12 months of deployment had a positive effect on soldiers' reenlistment.

The negative effect was greater in combat arms specialties and among unmarried soldiers, according to the study. By contrast, the Marine Corps, with its shorter deployments, did not experience a negative effect of deployment on first- or second-term reenlistment.

Length of deployment has varied by service. Marines typically have had seven-month deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, while soldiers have had 12- to 15-month deployments. Navy sea-going deployments were 6 months and Air Force deployments were often three months or less.

The study, "How Have Deployments During the War on Terrorism Affected Reenlistment," was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense Intelligence community.

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