Four out of five people whose first military service is in the National Guard or Reserves fail to complete their six-year enlistments, according to a new General Accounting Office study.
In Utah, that means Guard and Reserve components engage in a constant scramble to keep key positions filled as they lose an average of 16 percent of their members each year.The GAO, a research arm of Congress, says conflicts with civilian jobs, dissatisfaction with training and delayed pay are among many reasons it found for the high dropout rate.
It also found that the military and National Guard have limited enforcement options to try to force enlistees to finish their terms.
The GAO found that in 1988, the turnover rate nationally in the Reserve and Guard was 22.3 percent - including those who retire, die or whose enlistments have expired. That was about double the loss rate for active-duty military units.
Among Guard and Reserve units in Utah, the turnover rate was 16 percent. The highest was for the U.S. Army Reserve, 22 percent. The lowest was for the Air Force Reserve, 5 percent.
The loss rates for other branches in Utah were: Army National Guard, 20 percent; Marine Reserve, 14 percent; Air National Guard, 11 percent; and Navy Reserve, 8 percent.
The GAO also said that 72 percent of Army Reserve units in Utah are "high-loss units" because they lose more than 23 percent of their members a year. It said 39 percent of Utah's Army National Guard units are also high-loss units.
"High personnel turnover rates in units cause turbulence as personnel must be moved within the unit to fill key vacant positions and/or new personnel must be recruited," the GAO said.
In searching for reasons for high turnover rates, the GAO discovered that people who join the Guard and Reserve without prior military experience drop out at a much higher rate - and 80 percent never finish their initial six-year enlistment.
The GAO said that adds a high cost to Reserve units because the Defense Department "estimates it costs about $21,000 to train a reservist."
Some other reasons behind high dropout rates were: civilian job hours interfering with unbending military training schedules; slow military pay; enlistment terms may be too long; reservists who move often have trouble finding new units to join; specialists are often forced to work in unfamiliar areas; and dissatisfaction with training exercises.
Incentives it found that help keep soldiers active include paying enlistment/re-enlistment bonuses in monthly installments as long as soldiers are active, offering overseas training and providing quality training.
The GAO noted that under current policy, "most reservists are allowed to terminate their participation in the (Guard and Reserve) voluntarily. However, if a unit were mobilized, a member's service would no longer be considered voluntary since the reservist would be in active-duty status.
"As a consequence, Reserve commanders and leaders must contend with reservists who just stop attending weekend drills and, in essence, walk away from their enlistment obligations," the report said.
The GAO said separate branches deal with non-participants differently. "Some are discharged, some are transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve and some Naval and Marine Corps reservists are ordered to active duty." It suggested the Defense Department come up with a uniform plan on how to handle such problems.
The GAO also suggested the military be more flexible in its training schedules, pay soldiers immediately after training sessions and give members who move more help in finding other units to join.
The GAO visited dozens of Guard and Reserve units nationally as part of its research, including "C" Company of the 321st Army Reserve Engineer Battalion in Ogden and the 67th Aerial Port Squadron of the Air Force Reserve at Hill Air Force Base.