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The drawdown, particularly involuntary separations, is a huge issue for the Army, officials said, especially since the strength of the Army is its people and the trust they have in each other.
Currently, about 1,100 captains have been identified for involuntary separation, and about 550 majors will be notified during the first week in August. Already notified were 103 colonels and 136 lieutenant colonels.
No commander is happy when notified that a Soldier from his or her command has been identified to leave. It's never a good story, said senior leaders, speaking on background during a blogger's roundtable at the Pentagon July 24.
Once a commander has been told that a Soldier will be asked to separate, he or she will personally notify that Soldier, explain the process and give a range of options for transitioning. The notification is done on a personal basis because it's about putting a premium on the chain of command. It's about caring.
One of the big tools the Army uses for transitioning is the Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Army Career and Alumni Program. The program connects transitioning Soldiers with the communities they plan to live in, they can start to build relationships early with local businesses and organizations so their reintegration into civilian life is successful.
In return, those communities are gaining highly motivated Soldiers, leaders and experts in their occupational specialties. As the title of the program suggests, the Army wants them to be Soldiers for life.
Another possible option for some leaving the service is the Reserve Component. Enlisted who are separated involuntarily get 12 months to prepare and officers nine. By law, officers who were involuntarily separated receive seven months from notice to leaving the service but a two-month waiver was granted.
It's hard to find much good news about the drawdown, but if there is any, it's that only about 1 percent of the total force is being looked at for involuntary separations. But the numbers could climb, officials said, without action from Congress to restore funding that would balance readiness and modernization with current force structure.
The active Army is going from 513,800 Soldiers to about 510,000 this year. Next year, it will drop to 490,000, and should nothing change legislation-wise, the active force will be anywhere from 440,000 to 450,000 by 2019.
The drawdown has to take place because without it, there would be no money for training and equipment costs and Soldiers put in harm's way would be at greater risk, officials said. Also, the separations primarily affect NCOs and officers because without that, there would be no incentive for people coming into the Army because promotions would stagnate.
Given a choice, the Army prefers drawing down through natural attrition such as retirements and voluntary separations. The Army has already lowered the number of people being recruited to help get the numbers down. Should involuntary separations be needed - and they increasingly will be, due to the sheer size of the drawdown - the Army will pay an early retirement annuity, separation pay or early retirement beginning at 15 years, to as many who are eligible.
Separation for a captain with about eight years of service might be in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, for instance.
The NCO separations are less predictable than those for officers, and will fluctuate from year to year and be based a lot on military occupational specialty needs, officials said. For instance, if specific military occupational specialty is overstrength, more separations will occur there than from one that's balanced or understrength.
Selection boards will then look at the records and evaluations of Soldiers to determine who stays and who goes, based on performance and potential for future service. Derogatory actions, such as an Article 15 or driving under the influence, are just two of many variables the board would weigh.
Each year, the Selective Early Retirement Boards will continue to meet and the process will continue until 2019, absent new legislation.
It's a big challenge for the Army and especially for the Soldiers and Family members who are and will be affected, but officials said the service is trying to go about the process in the most humane way possible.