FORT PICKETT, Va. — When Soldiers returned to Virginia after supporting law enforcement in Washington, D.C, they were met by a bustling operation at Fort Pickett. This was the final phase of their mission, the part that made sure their orders were processed, their travel vouchers filed. Among the many stations set up there, was one for retention. Thanks to the efforts of the Virginia National Guard’s retention team, a total of 106 Soldiers successfully extended their enlistments.
“We spoke to every Soldier that came back from the D.C. mission and determined their eligibility to extend,” explained Master Sgt. Paul Johnson, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of operations for the Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion. He said the retention team, headed by Sgt. 1st Class Madrice Hamn, talked with everyone, but they specifically targeted Soldiers within 450 days of their Expiration Term of Service, or ETS, and had more "in-depth" conversations with them about the future of their Guard careers.
Beyond just talking about extensions, the team also tackled incentive issues as well.
“We fixed bonus issues and provided retention information for not only the Soldiers, but also for many of the command elements,” Hamn explained.
Both Johnson and Hamn credited the success of the retention team with getting back-to-basics with old-fashioned Soldier care.
“They were not treated like a heard of cattle just getting pushed through the line,” Johnson said. “We took the time to answer every question and address every concern they had whether it took 30 seconds or three hours.”
Plus, Johnson said, the retention team is comprised of subject matter experts.
"The retention team was outstanding and they knew how to apply it to individual Soldiers needs and circumstances," Johnson said.
Commenting on the team’s success, Maj. Scott Nivens, commander of the Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, said, “It just goes to show you getting face time with Soldiers can make a huge difference.”
The team didn’t just help enlisted Soldiers, Hamn said. They also worked with officers to identify issues relating to their retention as well.
“I watched NCOs continually offer advice to captains and majors that didn’t even know about an officer retention bonus,” Johnson explained. “Several of them walked away with $20,000 and extension paperwork in their hands.”
Additionally, the recruiting team set up a refreshment station for the returning Soldiers and also used the opportunity to identify Soldiers interested in joining the recruiting force, coming up with around 25 names of interested Soldiers.
“In my experience as a human, most everyone wants to feel appreciated and needed,” Johnson said. “These Soldiers definitely deserve that attention and will receive it.”
For those thinking about extending, Hamn recommends Soldiers do some research to try to understand what options might be available to them and to reach out to the state retention team with questions or additional guidance. He also recommends Soldiers talk to their significant others or families about the decision as well.
Johnson agreed and said that while incentives are great, Soldiers should also look to the National Guard for “a second retirement that will pay you for the rest of your life once you retire.” He also recommended Soldiers use the benefits available to them to help build their careers in the civilian sector.
Ultimately, Hamn credits his team’s success with teamwork.
“Teamwork made this dream a success,” he said. “Having subject matter experts who love their jobs and who put Soldier care above all other things.”
The Virginia Army National Guard is currently offering bonuses for eligible Soldiers who extend their enlistments. Both enlisted Soldiers and officers may be eligible and should reach out their unit for more information, or contact the state retention NCO at email@example.com.