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In 1998, following congressional approval, the U.S. Army shifted its senior enlisted force from a fixed contract system to indefinite reenlistment, theoretically increasing the prestige of senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) by recognizing them as career soldiers. The Army program requires all soldiers reaching the rank of E-6 with ten years of service to reenlist indefinitely, mirroring the management of officers and eliminating reenlistment paperwork. The Army has been the only service to adopt this program. This study analyzes past and present arguments for and against this policy made by service representatives, policymakers, and enlisted personnel. Reservations about the program include concerns that force planning could be complicated by the unpredictability of NCO separation dates, that the quality of the NCO corps could decline without reenlistment screening, and that retention and morale could suffer with the loss of reenlistment bonuses and other benefits. The intended program boost to NCO morale does not appear to have been realized. This report concludes that neither the costs nor benefits of indefinite reenlistment are strong enough to merit a change in policy for either the Army or the other services. An appendix provides an overview of indefinite reenlistment programs in other Western nations.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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