JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Considerable pay and benefit increases, coupled with a surge of patriotism, are keeping more people in the Navy, leading to possible record-high retention numbers and prompting a scale-back in recruiting.
Since October, about 66 percent of first-term sailors eligible to leave the service decided to stay in, arise of nearly 6 percentage points from last year. Last month alone, more than 80 percent of first-term sailors re-enlisted.
"The numbers are quite remarkable," said Capt. Jake Ross, the director for the Navy's Center for Career Development in Millington, Tenn. "This is just a phenomenal trend that we've had, the highest in anyone's memory."
Insufficient numbers were available for Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville Naval Air Station and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia to present an accurate representation of base retention.
Kings Bay, however, has the highest retention rate of any Navy base, said Lt. Doug Gabos, base spokesman.
Climbing retention rates are not an anomaly for the Navy. Thousands of other armed forces personnel are choosing to stay in the military, citing pay increases and a soft economy.
But Navy officers are the first to have taken a step in controlling the high numbers of sailors signing up to stay in by cutting the recruiting target for 2002 by about 10 percent, or 5,500 sailors.
Each branch of service has a manpower ceiling but, under opposition from the Bush administration, Congress is trying to increase that number. Just last week, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and his fellow members on the House Armed Services Committee approved a 1 percent increase, about 12,000 personnel.
Navy career counselors, who help sailors make decisions about their career paths, are pointing to several factors for the increase in re-enlistees.
The current administration has already upped pay for officers and enlisted by 21 percent over the past two years, the largest pay raise since 1981, Navy career spokesmen said.
"This administration is more military-friendly," said Petty Officer 1st Class Gary Miller, Mayport Naval Station career counselor. He recalls how just three years ago it was more difficult to keep people in the service competing with a strong economy and abundant opportunities for well-trained, disciplined people in the civilian work world.
"Our pay is very close now," the petty officer said. "I can point it out in dollars and cents to these young people"
Petty Officer 1st Class Miller also argues he can offer the sailors who walk into his office job security and consumer-protected retirement that companies on the outside can't.
However, the increase in military pay did not begin with President Bush's election, argues David Segal, director for the Maryland-based Center for Research on Military Organization.
"There was a trend to increase military pay under the Clinton administration," Mr. Segal said. "George W. is more popular with the military than Clinton was ... but I don't have a sense that the perception is that the current Congress is going to treat the military any differently than the Congress did in the past administration."
While Congress has beefed up the defense budget over the past couple of years, Mr. Segal argues, the interest lies more with hardware than people.
But Navy officials tout the quality of life and service programs designed to make life in the military more comfortable for sailors and their families, such as investment and retirement plans.