Assessing Retention and Special and Incentive Pays for Army and Navy Commissioned Officers in the Special Operations Forces

by Beth J. Asch, Michael G. Mattock, James Hosek, Shanthi Nataraj


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Research Questions

  1. How can policymakers assess how alternative S&I pay adjustments affect the retention of SOF commissioned officers?
  2. How effective would the use of S&I pays be in encouraging retention of U.S. Special Operations Forces officers beyond the required service commitment after training?

U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been deployed intensively over the past 15 years, and this is expected to continue into the future. SOF members are highly selected and receive lengthy and costly training, making retention of those who qualify as SOF members a high priority. The focus of this report is on the retention of SOF commissioned officers and, specifically, on the effectiveness of monetary incentives, known as special and incentive (S&I) pays, for SOF officer retention. Historically, S&I pays have usually not been targeted to commissioned officers but to warrant officers and enlisted personnel. The objective of the research documented in this report was to extend RAND's Dynamic Retention Model to the SOF commissioned officer community, estimate the model using 22 years of data, and use the model estimates to assess the effects of changes in the type or amount of S&I pay on SOF officer retention, focusing primarily on the U.S. Navy and Army. The authors found that offering the Critical Skills Retention Bonus (CSRB) to Army SOF commissioned officers would have a large effect on steady-state retention, of more than 11 percent, mainly among those with more than 19 years of service (YOS). The Navy already uses the bonus for officers to some extent; increasing the dollar amount by 25 percent would increase the steady-state Navy SOF force by just under 4 percent, mostly among those with between 15 and 26 YOS. The modeling capability that was developed could be used to consider other S&I pay changes for SOF officers.

Key Findings

Monetary incentives are valuable tools for managing SOF officer retention, and a rigorous, empirical model can provide useful insights for personnel managers

  • The Dynamic Retention Model for SOF Commissioned Officers provides a capability to assess how changes in S&I pays affect retention over an SOF career.
  • The model can be used to assess the effect on SOF officer retention of changes in the dollar amount of S&I pay, the service obligation required to receive the pay, and when the pay is offered during a SOF career.

Offering the CSRB program to Army SOF commissioned officers would have a large effect on steady-state retention

  • The program would increase the size of the SOF officer force by 11.1 percent.
  • The main increase in retention occurs among those with more than 19 years of service (YOS), substantially extending the careers of personnel who reach retirement eligibility at 20 YOS and might otherwise retire.

Increasing the amounts offered to Navy SOF officers under its existing CSRB program would also increase retention

  • An increase of 25 percent would increase the steady-state Navy SOF force by 3.7 percent.
  • Most of the retention increase would occur among those with between 15 and 26 YOS, when members are eligible to receive the CSRB.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Officer Special Operations Forces Careers and Special and Incentive Pays

  • Chapter Three

    Overview of the Dynamic Retention Model and the Estimation Methodology

  • Chapter Four

    Data and Military and Civilian Earnings Profiles

  • Chapter Five

    Estimation Results and Model Fits

  • Chapter Six

    Simulations of the Retention Effects of Varying Special and Incentive Pay

  • Chapter Seven


  • Appendix A

    More Details About Special Operations Careers for Commissioned Officers

  • Appendix B

    No Dynamic Retention Model Estimates for the Air Force or Marine C

The research described in this report prepared for the Office of Compensation within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness 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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