JULY 12, 2022 — In many ways, the military is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces must be present and fit together correctly to form the full picture of America’s profession of arms.
To assist in retaining the right talent in the right place at the right time, the Army relies on a group of NCOs called career counselors.
“Deciding whether or not to stay in the service is a big decision,” said Sgt. Maj. Walter Martinez, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood command career counselor. “We have to give our Soldiers all the tools they need to make the correct decision for themselves and their families, too.”
That decision process can be complicated, Martinez said, when one considers even some of the factors at play, which include pay and bonuses, assignment locations, reclassification opportunities and the needs of the Army at any given time.
“We’re here to break it down step-by-step,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Henderson, 14th Military Police Brigade career counselor. “There are a lot of variables, and that’s why I’m highly interactive with them. I don’t just want to talk at them; I want to ask them questions, so I can find out what they really want. Bonuses are great, for example, but if you’re reenlisting, reenlist for something that you’re wanting, whether it be a location, training, maybe a new [military occupational specialty], but do something that you like.”
Henderson said even if a Soldier is set on separating from the Army, it’s never a waste of time speaking with a career counselor — they have information and ideas on how a Soldier can best utilize their remaining time in the service.
“If you don’t think you’re going to make the Army a career, maybe do something that will assist you when you get out,” he added. “That’s where I go to the education center, and I start linking people up with those credentials — keep on getting more stuff under your belt before you go.”
The career counselors here assist, on average, more than 500 Soldiers every month, and one thing Sgt. 1st Class Robert Christensen, 1st Engineer Brigade career counselor, has learned about retention is there’s not one correct way to counsel every Soldier.
“Every Soldier — every Family — is different,” he said.
In a room of 20 Soldiers, Christensen said, “you’re probably not going to convince all of them to reenlist right away.”
“But you get them talking about it, discussing it, and that’s what you want,” he said. “Someone might be at a briefing, but their buddy was on duty. So, they’re going to go talk to their buddy. Sometimes the information gets skewed a little because it’s second hand, but if they come back and ask us, now we’re able to give them the most up-to-date information, from a subject matter expert.”
Reclassifications — finding different career fields in the Army a Soldier is qualified to do — are a big part of the job of a career counselor, Christensen said.
“We have those Soldiers who came into the Army, and the field they went into first may not have been what they should’ve been doing,” he said. “Reclass is also a way to encourage a Soldier to focus on their education, because many times, there are [military occupational specialties] with special qualifications or that require you to have some type of collegiate experience.”
Bonuses, choice assignments and reclassification opportunities aside, Martinez said unit morale and command climate play just as much of a role in retaining the best Soldiers.
“If you have a unit with good morale, Soldiers tend to reenlist and stay in the Army,” he said.
Henderson added, “they don’t reenlist for me.”
“It’s the command climate — making them feel involved, caring about what they want,” he said.
One Soldier, who is currently receiving assistance from a career counselor is Staff Sgt. Maria Avina-Maraccini, a drill sergeant with Company D, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment. Avina-Maraccini visited the retention office recently and met with Staff Sgt. Stephanie Rojas, 3rd Chemical Brigade career counselor, to finalize the paperwork on her and her husband’s reenlistments that will take them each to 20 years of service. She said career counselors play a really important role in the Army.
“They explained what our options are, and what’s new, what’s current,” she said. “They’re very approachable. It’s easy to come to their office and they do a great job with the paperwork. We don’t have to do anything, just come in, have a seat, have a great conversation and we’re in and out the door.”
Christensen said, “that’s our job — to pair those pieces together.”
“Our job is rewarding — that’s the biggest benefit,” he said. “When we are able to pair a Soldier’s needs, wants and desires with the Army’s needs, wants and desires, that’s the perfect match for us.”
Henderson added he really enjoys what he does.
“I get to constantly interact with Soldiers,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office