The National Guard sees its troops come back despite COVID, a difficult year
WASHINGTON – Army Spc. Javzailia Pineiro joined the New York National Guard in late 2019 and began working as a truck driver just as the pandemic was beginning to hit. For months, she drove around the state, spending long days delivering masks, water, food and other supplies.
It was exhausting work. Yet she has already signed up for four more years, enjoying a $10,000 re-enlistment bonus and the chance to use her military advantage to go to college.
Pineiro’s decision to stay echoes across the country. State Guard units are seeing dramatic re-engagement rates — despite the grueling demands the Guard has faced over the past two years in the face of COVID-19, natural disasters and other military deployments.
For some, the Guard provides additional income in times of economic uncertainty. For others – like Pineiro – it’s a job that could become a 20-year career and give her tuition help and job skills she can always use. And for many, it’s a fulfilling part-time job that allows them to give back to their communities.
“Since March 2020, we have experienced a significant increase in our retention rate,” says Army Brig. Gen. Isabel Rivera Smith, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, New York National Guard. “We believe it’s because of the impact our service members have had during this COVID pandemic.”
According to Col. Wes Nichols Jr., Air Guard Assistant Director of Personnel and Recruitment, “The very idea of neighbors helping neighbors is truly inspiring.”
“Our Airmen have been involved in all types of COVID operations, from testing and vaccinations to hospital work and distribution,” he says. “Additionally, in 2020 and 2021 alone, we also fought fires, floods, winter weather, tornado response. When you can engage in these types of activities and help your neighbors, that’s a job. significant.”
Just ask the members of the Guard.
For Pineiro, who hails from Schenectady, the job of truck driver came at just the right time. She had just gotten out of her army guard training and didn’t have a job, so when the opportunity for a full-time COVID assignment came up, she jumped at it.
“It was a really great opportunity for me, and I’m so happy to be able to participate in helping the soldiers I work with and the state with the COVID virus,” said Pineiro, who is now moving to a new job on the New York Guard Homeland Response Force. “I’m doing something good…a mission that benefits me and millions of people.”
In the Midwest, Guard leaders are seeing a similar increase in re-enrollments.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Corell, chief of the Iowa National Guard, said in an interview that just before he began his job as the state’s adjutant general, only slightly more than half of the soldiers in the army had chosen to re-enlist. The rate jumped to 58% the year he started, and as he put more effort into it and the pandemic took hold, retention jumped to 79% last year.
In the Iowa Air Guard, more than 90% have re-enlisted, up slightly in recent years. He said that as troops approach their re-enlistment dates, they are brought to his headquarters in groups. “We make sure they were asked to stay.” he said. “And make sure they understand the benefits they’re walking away from,” including tuition assistance
“People appreciate the opportunity to get out there and serve their community,” he said. “And they look forward to the opportunity to serve the nation as well.”
Only two states — Ohio and California — failed to meet or exceed their Army Guard retention goals in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to Bureau statistics. of the national guard. It was a dramatic turnaround from 2019, when only a small minority – just 10 of 54 states and territories – exceeded their targets.
In total, the Army Guard nationwide retained approximately 87% of its target in 2019, and this increased to 102% in 2020 and 116% in 2021. Retention targets differ for each state and are set by the National Guard Bureau. Army Col. Christopher Martindale, the Army National Guard‘s human resources chief, said states’ targets have not been lowered and leaders have been ‘more aggressive’ in the process. a wider campaign to keep the troops.
The news is not all positive. Higher retention rates over the past two years were needed to help offset recruiting shortages as COVID shutdowns made it harder for the military to find and enlist young people, especially in schools. .
The Air Guard calculates its retention differently than the Army Guard, but has seen similar increases. Col. Nashid Salahuddin, the Air Guard’s chief of recruitment and retention, said the goal was to retain 90% of Airmen in each state.
According to totals released by the Guard Bureau, 14 states and others fell short of their 90% retention goals in 2019, but only two — Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands — fell short in 2021. had only 67 Airmen last year, so losing just seven of them led to missing the mark. Nationally, the Air Guard just achieved 90% mission accomplishment in 2019, but last year retained over 93%.
Guard chiefs said the economy likely played a role in prompting some service members to re-enlist, especially during the pandemic. But they mostly said they believe part-time citizen soldiers and airmen are driven by a desire to give back.
Looking ahead, there are concerns that the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate could hurt recruitment and retention in the coming months.
Already Corell has said he hears a small number of his Iowa troops will leave to avoid mandatory vaccinations. For the most part, he said, those who withdrew from the vaccine have been in for years and are eligible for retirement.
“The reality is that it will affect retention numbers in the Iowa National Guard, simply because there are those who don’t want to be vaccinated,” Corell said, noting that eventually those who refuse and don’t have no exemption will not be allowed. to serve. “We grow people over time, and the potential loss of that experience concerns me.”
Members of the Army Guard have until June to get vaccinated. The deadline for Air Guard members was last month, and Corell said so far only a few have turned down.
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