Army puts a premium on retaining its IT staff

NORFOLK, Va.—The Army wants its systems to be all they can be—and that means
having good information technology specialists.


As network security worries grow, Army officials said they are mulling ways to attract
and retain more systems workers.


“IT professionals are getting the most attention” of the vast array of
military occupation specialties, said Col. Michael Lemons, director of the Army Computer
Science School at Fort Gordon, Ga. He spoke last week at the Army Small Computer
Program’s spring status report conference.


Army systems administrators likely will continue to have broader responsibility than
their private-sector counterparts, said Lemons, who helps train 3,600 Army IT personnel
each year.


Although the Directorate for Information Systems for Command, Control, Communications
and Computers has backed off from requiring that all systems administrators receive
high-level security training, DISC4 wants them to have at least some certification by the
end of January, Lemons said.


Training requirements continue to rise for workers who maintain Unix, e-mail, LANs and
routers, Lemons said, whereas the need to train programmers and application developers is
falling.


The average 74B Advanced Individual Training soldier is an enlisted 19-year-old who has
made a six-year commitment to the Army in exchange for training, he said.


Twenty-five percent of 74Bs have no previous computer experience; another 40 percent
have only computer game experience. Two years ago, inexperienced recruits made up an even
higher 75 percent of the 74Bs, he said.


“Generally speaking, we’re starting at ground zero” with the 74B
enlisted soldiers, Lemons said. Only 2 percent hold computer science or related degrees,
and many, he said, forget “half of what they learn at Fort Gordon” within days
of leaving.


Army brass have shown strong commitment to IT by funding the 4th Infantry Division at
Fort Hood, Texas—slated to become the service’s first digitized
division—with 122 74Bs. To do so, the service reduced the number of tanks it wanted
to order, Lemons said. The 4th Infantry Division maintains 4,070 computers and 73 LANs and
WANs.


Officials are paying particular attention to warrant officer 251A recruits who analyze
information systems and maintain LANs. “They are usually looking to leave the Army
for the commercial world,” he said.


The service had 2,300 enlisted 74B soldiers last year; it has 2,688 this year. Lemons
predicted there could be as many as 4,000 74Bs within two years and 5,000 such personnel
within five years. He said the current strength probably would hold steady through Oct. 1.


The Army retains 47.6 percent of the 74B soldiers through their initial enlistment
years, 3 percent better than the service average. Attrition during the middle years, when
the service retains 71.4 percent, is worse than the Army average.


“There’s no problem recruiting 74Bs,” Lemons said. “The problem is
the competing requirements,” as Army recruiting numbers are down and other military
occupation specialty slots also must be filled.


The 74Bs do not receive enlistment bonuses, but Army officials are trying to improve
morale and retention through proposed prorated pay, long-term contracts and education
incentives.


DISC4 officials recently sent an order asking Army personnel to identify “shadow
automaters,” or personnel in other military occupations who receive training designed
for 74Bs and perform some 74B tasks, Lemons said.


The Army also has a shortage of signal regiment officers, of which 178 are authorized
but only 80 are assigned, Lemons said. The demand for 251A signal warrant officers could
double in the next three to four years, he said.


The Computer Science School has a 190-member staff and keeps 40 laboratories and 900
PCs. Its courses range from a few days of computer literacy to a few weeks of router
training or information assurance, he said.


More Army IT training information appears on the Web site at www.gordon.army.mil/css.   


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