Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is concerned enough about strengthening the lethality of U.S. forces that he broke with tradition last month to impose a first-ever "universal retention policy" across the four service branches.
For decades, the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force have been responsible for retention rules that dictate whether individuals get to stay in, and for how long, based on needs of service branches including the Marines.
The Office of Secretary of Defense oversees recruiting, and Congress imposes officer management and promotion rules. But force retention remained primarily the province of service secretaries and uniformed chiefs of staff.
Mattis broke with tradition after concluding the military is handcuffed by uneven and ineffectual retention practices, mostly associated with the medical health of the force.
Service leaders, particularly in the Army, long ago identified a rising pool of medically nondeployable members as a drain on readiness. At Mattis' urging, force managers last summer took a closer look. The findings were alarming. One snapshot of the force showed the pool of nondeployable members at 286,000, or 14 percent of all active and ready reserve personnel.
That not only harms readiness but impacts morale because too many members are deploying too often because others cannot.
That's not fair to able-bodied members or their families, Mattis said.
"The bottom line is we expect everyone to carry their share of the load," he told reporters during a return flight from Europe on Feb. 17.
On Feb. 14, a memorandum to service secretaries and Joint Chiefs of Staff announced a new departmentwide policy on the retention of nondeployable members.
By Oct. 1, service branches must begin to process for administrative separation, or for disability evaluation, any service member who has been nondeployable for 12 consecutive months. The services can begin out-processing nondeployable members sooner under this rule, if they choose, but they must start by October.
The policy includes exceptions for combat wounds, pregnancy and other issues. It also allows for waivers.
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