The Retention of High Quality Personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces

by Michael P. Ward, Hong W. Tan

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This study addresses the question, Does the military retain the best of its first-term recruits? Using data from the 1974 Entry Cohort File developed by the Defense Manpower Data Center, the authors generate an index of job performance that combines entry-level attributes of recruits--Armed Forces Qualification Test scores and level of education--with first-term promotion histories. This "quality index" is used to assess the relative importance of these characteristics and other unobserved "ability factors" for evaluating the military's success in retaining high-quality enlisted personnel. The authors find that the military is, in general, successful in retaining high-quality enlisted personnel. Those lost through attrition have the lowest quality. Those who separate at the end of their commitment have about the same quality as those entering the military. The study is a first step toward answering the important policy question of how the military can attract and retain high-quality recruits, and how reenlistment standards should be designed.

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