Archived Leader's Tab Articles

Retention 101

In a couple of our previous articles we talked about Retention (Closing the Back Door) and Counseling. In this article we are going to expand on those two thoughts

What is Retention?

Chapter 5 of IGR Regulation 10-4 states,

"The retention of qualified enlisted personnel is vital to the success of the IGR in fulfilling its mission."

The Regulations tell you what you are responsible for but they do not tell you how to go about it. That's what we are going to do in this article. We are going to give you some of the basic steps to help you improve your retention program.

Who is responsible?

Chapter 5 once again states,

"The development and maintenance of a trained Guard Reserve Unit is the responsibility of each Commissioned and Non-Commissioned Officer."

Basically stated that means that everyone in a Leadership position from the CG on down to the Squad Leader has a hand in the retention of our soldiers.

All Commanders are responsible for establishing an annual Retention Program in their Commands. CSMs it is your responsibility to assist your Commander by initiating and maintaining a Retention Program in your Unit. 1SGs you share that responsibility with your CSM. Platoon SGTs/Section SGTs your responsibility is to ensure your soldiers are trained and gainfully employed when they are at drill. Front Line Supervisors (Squad Leaders) you have the toughest job of them all. Before drill you should be contacting your soldiers to make sure they are prepared for drill. During drill make sure your soldiers are where they are supposed to be and doing what they are supposed to be doing. After drill contact those soldiers who couldn't attend and update them on what went on at drill.

The Active Army and the NG task their NCOs with the execution of the retention mission. IGR NCOs should follow the example set by those components. Commanders should be aware of any potential losses of soldiers but NCOs we are the ones who are responsible for retaining our soldiers. Depending on where the soldier sits in the T.O. Roster there are at least one or more NCOs between that soldier and the Commander.

Retention is one of two parts to a formula that will give you a gain in your Units strength. That formula is:

An aggressive recruiting plan + A quality retention program = Unit's gain in overall numbers.

When we get a low retention number where does it hit us? It usually hits us in what I call the "STRENGTH POCKET BOOK." How many times have we been on a mission and look around for soldiers to support that mission and they are just not there.

Where do we begin?

Retention begins on day 1. Once we find out from the G-1 that we have a new soldier in our Unit this should start a sequence of events. The first phase is the welcome phase. S-1s should develop and send out a welcome letter. This letter should include pertinent information that is important to the new soldier getting a good feeling about making the decision to join our organization. It should contain key member's names and contact numbers, his/her T.O. position, maybe a strip map to the Armory.

CSMs should assign what I like to call is a "Battle Buddy" to help the new soldier transition into the Unit. It could be a squad member, perhaps someone who lives close to the new soldier. Maybe they can link up with the new soldier and give them a ride to the drill. Sometimes a soldier would rather go to their peers for answers than their Leadership. This is where a well coached "Battle Buddy" comes in. This position should last at least six months.

Once the new soldier arrives at his/her first drill the next step is to conduct a meet and greet session. Introduce the new soldier; let them take a few minutes to talk about themselves. Introduce them to the key Leaders in the Unit. Introduce them to their squad or section members.

The next step is a key element in the soldier's career progress. The 1SGs should conduct a counseling process. Not the kind that we talked about in our earlier article but career path counseling. Interview the soldier by asking leading questions. Questions such as,

  • "Why did you join the IGR?"
  • "What are your career goals?"
  • "Where do you see yourself 1 year from now?"; "3 years from now?"

Take all this information and put together a career path laying out all the requirements to help the soldier attain the goals they stated in the interview.


Tracking ETS Dates

Knowing when a soldier's term of service is about to end is important when maintaining our strength in numbers. It is important not to let our soldier's re-enlistment overlap their ETS date. Regulations states that all paperwork concerning a soldiers re-enlistment to include the oath of re-enlistment (JFHQIN-IGR Form 3-R) must be returned to HQ at least 10 days prior to the individual's normal expiration of term of service.

To help us track and keep our soldiers in good standing we are developing a color-coded system to remind us of those ETS dates. We will be using a variation of the traffic light colors in that system. Soldiers that are 121-180 days out from their ETS dates will be in the GREEN ZONE. Those soldiers that are 61-120 days away from ETSing will be in the AMBER ZONE. Soldiers that are 31-60 days out from their ETS dates will be in the RED ZONE. Finally those soldiers that are 0-30 days away from ETS will be categorized as in the DANGER CLOSE ZONE. Keep in mind that these dates only cover the soldiers last six months of his/her term of service. What is important also is the 2 ½ years before they hit the GREEN ZONE. But that is matter for a later topic to be covered here in the Leader's Tab.

You'll find that retaining our good soldiers by doing some simple basic things is a lot easier than trying to recruit their replacement.

There is an old saying that goes like this, "its better have a bird in one hand than two in the bush." I like to think that refers to our Retention Program. Let's keep those good soldiers in the IGR than go after the other two recruits.



When we hear that someone has been counseled we tend to automatically think that individual has done something wrong. Human nature has driven us to think like that because we tend to focus on the negative and not the positive.

Historically that’s the way the original counseling process was perceived. In reality it could be used for the positive or for the negative but for some reason it was rarely used for the positive.

For now let us keep an open mind and think about the counseling process as being utilized more for the positive and less for the negative. We should view the counseling form as no more than a written record of what was discussed which is exactly what it was intended for.

Prior to the change in the late 1990s the counseling process and form was pretty much a one-sided affair. It was the leader informing the individual soldier about an incident or an action and did not allow for the individual soldier's input. It left little room for the leader’s involvement other than the initial contact. The changes that did occur allow for the individual’s input when called upon. It improved the leader’s involvement throughout the entire process. And it called for an agreed upon plan to improve based upon the conversation between the leader and the individual being counseled.

The form utilized in the process is DA FORM 4856-E Jun 99, and is titled the Developmental Counseling Form. A copy of this form is available on the Forms page of this web site. The 4856 form can be used for various counseling reasons. For use of the form you should refer to FM 22-100 U.S. Army Doctrine Publication ADP 6-22 - Army Leadership

The counseling process is not hard but there are a few simple steps you should follow to be successful. The first step is to identify the need and to prepare for counseling session. Once you determine there is a need you should find a suitable place. It should be away from everyone else so that you and the person being counseled can maintain confidentially. Before you begin you should outline the session, organize the information and plan a strategy so it can come to a successful conclusion. Schedule a time and make sure you give advance notice. Once you open the session discuss the issue, develop a plan of action and inform the soldier of your responsibilities. Record what was discussed and close the session. You keep a copy and make sure the soldier gets a copy of the 4856.

During the session you should be an active listener. Encourage the individual to open up and respond to his/her needs. Ask questions if you are not sure what was said.

As a leader, when you enter the counseling process you should keep an open mind. Don’t stereotype and don’t form a personal bias. Don’t judge the person before you’ve listened to their side of the story. And by all means don’t lose control over your emotions. Respect the subordinate, show some empathy and be aware of any self or cultural differences.

When closing the session make sure the soldier and you have agreement on the plan of action and by all means make sure you follow upon the progress.

The whole key to effective counseling is maintaining creditability. You, as the leader, must have creditability yourself to perform a successful counseling process. You must maintain this creditability throughout the session and the follow ups. As you conduct more successful counseling sessions you build on that creditability. As you grow as a leader and your soldiers become more successful from these counseling sessions is what you are striving for. Your unit will be stronger and perform their duty better.

And as I always say "That’s where the rubber meets the road."


Closing the back door

Retention is the other half of the formula that is essential to building our strength and improving our numbers in the IGR. In our last article we mentioned the phrase "close the back door." What this means is closing the back door to our losses. All too often we find ourselves in a position where we have more discharges in a month than enlistments.

Losses happen for many reasons. Some are just out of our control such as retirements and medical discharges. What we need to concentrate on is reducing losses other than the two we just mentioned. We need to minimize these losses while adding new enlistments. We need to end the month on the plus side having more enlistments than losses. Retention of our soldiers is the key that will help us increase our organizational "strength in numbers."

Chapter 5 of the IGR Regulations state that the retention effort starts on the day an individual takes the first oath. Ordinarily that’s a true statement. But we should look at the retention effort actually starting as we begin the recruiting process of a qualified applicant. As we go through the steps in trying to bring an individual into our organization we need to be aware of what we say or do could affect not only their enlistment but also their re-enlistment at the end of their first term. This is accomplished as easy as treating that individual as we would want someone to treat us. Once an individual takes their first oath then the formal process of retention begins.

This begins by sitting down with the new soldier and conducting a retention interview process. Taking a vested interest in your soldier will pay big dividends as that individual goes through their first term of enlistment. After all, your soldier has a vested interest in the IGR. They spent money to purchase and maintain uniforms. They’ve pulled money out of their pockets to pay for gas to and from drills. They’ve spent numerous hours of their own time to get trained and perform duty on various missions.

As you conduct this interview process find out why they joined the IGR. Ask them what are their career goals in the IGR? Where do they see themselves one year from now? Three years from now? What are their long term goals? All new soldiers should be interviewed. In fact it wouldn’t hurt to have all your soldiers conduct a retention interview. Commanders, CSMs, 1SGs take this information and start planning a career path for your new enlistees. By putting a career path together you ensure that when your soldier is eligible for promotion he/she will have all the requirements in place. These requirements to include MEMS levels and leadership schools. This interview process should last for the entire enlistment period of an enlisted soldier and touching base with the soldier every six months to check on their progress. Officers should follow the same six month process.

As soldiers become eligible for ribbons and awards make sure they receive them in a timely manner. This should take place at an awards ceremony at your drill.

Ensure that your soldiers are gainfully employed at drills. Everyone wants to be part of the team. Get your soldiers involved in unit operations.

Getting soldiers to feel a part of the team, awarding and promoting them when they are due are all key ingredients in a well working retention plan. As we retain soldiers we will see our units not only grow in "strength in numbers" but also grow in "strength in unity." Commanders, CSMs, 1SGs, once you get your retention plans working you will realize that it is much easier to retain good qualified soldiers then trying to go our and recruit their replacements. In closing we should remember that retention of our soldiers doesn’t come from a regulation telling you to do so. It doesn’t come from a retention interview alone. It comes from an attitude, a feeling. A feeling of the soldiers wanting to remain a part of our organization. "That’s where the rubber meets the road."


Strength in Numbers

There is an old saying, "there’s strength in numbers." To an organization such as ours, whose territory covers the entire state of Indiana, that is a very important understatement. Having greater numbers would enhance our capability as an emergency management force multiplier. How do we increase our strength? There are two ways. Number one is an aggressive recruiting program. Number two is a well-working retention plan. You’ll be hearing the phrase "close the back door" more in the upcoming months. That’s what retention does. For now we’ll talk more about recruiting and leave retention for a later time.

"Who is a recruiter?"

Everyone in the IGR is a recruiter. This is not a job that is assigned to one or two individuals in your Command. To get to where we need to be it will take a combined effort from everyone in the IGR from top to bottom.

"Who do I recruit?"

Imagine yourself sitting at drill and there is an empty chair next to you. Who would you like to have filling that space? That is the person you want to recruit. We want to make sure that person meets all of our requirements for enlistment. Commanders, CSMs, you will want to make sure you have a recruiting plan in place and take the time to train your soldiers what to do once they acquire a qualified lead. You will want to make sure they are putting out correct information. It’s very important to make that time to train your soldiers so that we don’t waste time on a lead that is not qualified.

"Where do I go to find these leads?"

You’ll be hearing this term more in the coming year:


Prospecting is determining where your best leads are coming from and developing a recruiting plan to capture as many qualified leads as possible. Commanders, CSMs, this info comes from stepping back and performing a market analysis. Identify possible sources. Maybe your last few enlistments can provide a starting point. Look for other sources where there may be potential recruits. Volunteer organizations can also be a potential location.

"I don’t feel comfortable talking to someone about the IGR."

That’s a natural feeling for most people. I’m sure everyone has had a positive thing or two they’ve done or enjoyed while serving in the IGR. That could be the tone of your conversation with that potential recruit. If not, then at a minimum, get a name, a phone number, and what’s a good time to contact that individual and turn that lead over to your Command’s Recruiting Officer or NCO. It’s a good idea to have some blank copies of the enlistment application on hand, instead of telling an individual to go to the website and getting a copy. It’s a step closer to actually getting that applicant to join. Invite them to one of your drills. Let the interested party see what actually goes on at drill. It’s easier to convince them to join when they’re at the armory than over the phone. Did I mention that there is an award for outstanding recruiting? The IGR awards an "Outstanding Recruiter Ribbon" and is available to all individuals who have excelled in the field of recruiting by having secured five (5) individuals who enlist in the IGR. Our numbers right now in the IGR are about 280+ soldiers. Imagine what our strength would be if every one of those 280+ current members qualified for that ribbon this training year.

Take the challenge! Make that an individual goal! Accomplish that Mission! Good luck and good recruiting!