United States and NATO Military Services Re-enlistment Rate Comparisons and Findings


By Tyler Sylvia, 1stLT, USMC



This paper provides information on the re-enlistment rates of the U.S. and NATO allies’ military services. It also examines the reasons and factors that contribute to why re-enlistment rates may be relatively high or low.


Key Findings

  • Highest re-enlistment rate: Coast Guard ~68%
  • Lowest re-enlistment rate: Marine Corps ~37%
  • Top three reasons for enlisted service members to terminate active service across all branches:
    1. Civilian job opportunities or college
    2. Poor pay/allowances
    3. Overall job satisfaction
  • Each branch consistently meets or exceeds yearly enlisted retention goals but continue to struggle to retain enlisted members with unique skills sets such as cyber operators, aviation maintenance mechanics, and special operation forces
  • Multiple deployments, even to hostile areas, do not significantly impact on re-enlistment rates
  • A tactic to retain more personnel, many NATO countries and U.S. military branches are considering some form of formal, extended departure from the military (up to one year) with the ability to return to the military if one so desires.
  • NATO countries generally maintain sufficient levels of re-enlisted personal for the purposes for which their armed forces are designed.


U.S. Service Re-enlistment Comparison


Most Common Trends that Lead to Higher Re-enlistment Rates Across the Services

  • Competitive re-enlistment bonuses
    • Each branch offers substantial re-enlistment bonuses with the Army offering the most money – up to $100k
    • The Army and the Air Force historically have the largest sum of money to offer per enlisted service member
  • Job satisfaction – leadership opportunities and promotion potential
    • All branches, in general, have appropriately planned to allow for timely promotions and appropriate billet openings for enlisted personnel
    • Effective implementation of lateral occupational specialty move programs


Trends that Lead to Lower Re-enlistment Rates

* The above information is limited to the amount of information provided, primarily on exit surveys, by enlisted members preparing to depart the military. Further information was gleaned from third-party or federal government surveys and studies.
  • Civilian opportunities (to include college)
    • The military offers highly sought-after training that often translates well to the civilian sector
    • Utilization of GI bill
  • Poor quality of life
    • Amount of pay/allowances being the most common factor for poor quality of life
    • High number of work hours in comparison to monetary compensation
    • Poor barracks/housing options
      • Notably, in the Marine Corps, one must be an E-6 to move out of the barracks compared to the other branches where (depending on base restrictions) one can be an E-5 to move out of the barracks.
    • Desire to not PCS or deploy on regular basis
  • Poor command culture/leadership
    • Tied closely to job and work-place satisfaction


U.S. Services Compared to NATO Allies

  • Denmark conscripts 18-year-old males. However, 96%-99% of service members are volunteers. The Danish do not have significant problems retaining its enlisted.
  • Iceland does not maintain a military, rather, it has a small Coast Guard for defensive operations only
  • Turkey has a very unique military recruitment and retention mechanism. Key points:
    • Individuals selected to be NCOs sign a 15-year contract
    • Conscripts who complete their obligated service can sign another contract for 1 – 5 years depending on desire and job
  • NATO countries face very similar problems compared to the United States in terms of retaining enlisted personnel. The only notable exceptions are listed below:
    • Incongruence between prevailing social values and the Military organizational culture
    • Promotions systems based on seniority vice merit
    • The management of the major processes of recruitment, selection and classification, turnover and retention





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