My most recent foray into the wilderness provided ample time to ponder the next few years ahead, especially in the realm of career moves. Currently I am scheduled to move to Fort Bragg, NC later this year (time tba) and should be going on an OEF (Afghanistan) tour next year for approximately 15 months based on current info. After my return I should have about 14 months left on my current contract and at that point I will probably have a better idea of what the next few years after will hold (US political landscape specifically).
Ae Young and I have discussed our options and preferences and at this point I am leaning towards signing another 4 year contract if I can negotiate a career move that's acceptable to us. We have decided that geographically we would most like to go to Germany. We haven't been stationed there, and we both would like to travel to points of interest around Europe, the Mediterranean and the former Soviet Union.
Currently I owe the Army 3 1/2 years, which would put me at 23 years time in service. If I sign another bonus contract, then I would be obligated until 27 years. Another option is pursuing a PhD in either Public Health or Education, depending upon the needs of the Army. That option would probably extend my career until 32-33 years active duty by the time school and contract were completed. That's another one of those choices that are too early to predict. Right now I think that retention is pretty good, at least in the PA ranks. With the recent bonus option, I think they have managed to stabilize the numbers, but the long term is still tough to predict. The majority of people who took the bonus will be due to exit at the same time, mostly in October 2010. That will also likely place a premium on assignment choices as everyone will probably be using the threat of retirement to negotiate for better assignments. If everyone asks for the more desirable postings, there won't be enough to go around.
I have my concerns that the Army in general is setting itself up for a big fall in retention numbers when the majority of the active force has been on multiple combat tours. I think retention was initially steady since soldiers were allowed to get tax free bonuses if they reenlisted while deployed. The problem is that most of these reenlisting soldiers were on their first OIF tours and now they are paying the price of multiple OIF/OEF tours, mostly measured in terms of losses. I have a feeling that the initial jubilation of getting a large, tax free bonus will be greatly tempered by the realization of the eventual cost in life and time away from home, family and pursuing life goals.