Trained person-years are equal in importance to aggregate end-strength when evaluating personnel readiness. Greater proportions of trained person-years reduce training costs and enable the Services to cut recruiting objectives. To gain increased person-years with the same number of Servicemembers, DoD and Service planners increase the mean initial term of enlistment and restructure the mix of first-term and career force personnel.
The mean number of months in service per enlisted Servicemember is highlighted in Figure 3.2. Mean time in service rose from 75 months in FY 1987 to 90 months in FY 1996 and then dropped slightly to 84 months in FY 2002. Although the cumulative effect of various policies put in place since the early 1980s resulted in an increase in the mean age of the Services' enlisted force from 25 years old in FY 1980 to a peak of almost 27 and a half years old in FYs 1996 and 1997, current retention problems have led to a slight decrease in mean age and time in service during the last few years. The current mean age of the Services' enlisted force is almost exactly 27 years old.
Force structure, retention, and personnel policies govern the distribution of Servicemembers by occupation and grade. These factors have resulted in an overall DoD force profile wherein approximately half the force (51 percent) has less than 6 years of service, with slightly less than half (45 percent) having 6 to 19 years, and 4 percent having more than 20 years.[footnote 1] Pay grade and time in service are highly correlated. Paralleling the years in service data, pay grade distributions include slightly more than half of the enlisted force in pay grades E1 through E4 (53 percent) and slightly less than half in pay grades E5 through E9 (47 percent), as shown in Table 3.1. Progression from E1 and E2 (trainees) to E3 occurs quickly; consequently, relatively few enlisted members are in pay grades E1 and E2 (13 percent). Nearly three-quarters (75 percent) of the enlisted force are in pay grades E3 through E6. Service differences primarily are the result of retention trends as well as the force structure and personnel requirements needed to support Service-unique roles and missions. Thus, time in service and pay grade data should be interpreted cautiously.
In FY 2002, 49 percent of the enlisted force was 17–24 years old, yet a little less than 2 percent was older than 44, as shown in Table 3.2. For those who make the military a career, the 20-year retirement option results in many leaving the service while in their late 30s and early 40s. In the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, a large proportion of the enlisted force was under age 25 (48, 47, and 68 percent, respectively). Marine Corps members were the “youngest” with more than two-thirds under age 25, and 3 percent 40 years or older. Air Force members were the "oldest" with 42 percent under age 25, and 10 percent 40 years or older. The Marine Corps traditionally has the youngest accessions. Historically, the Air Force has experienced higher enlisted retention rates than the other Services, contributing to somewhat “older” enlisted members.
Although 49 percent of the enlisted force was in the 17–24 age group, approximately 15 percent of the civilian labor force fell in this range. At the other end of the distribution, over one-half (51 percent) of the civilian labor force was 40 years old or older, compared with 7 percent of enlisted members.
[Footnote 1] See Timenes, N., Jr., Force Reductions and Restructuring in the United States, presented to NATO Seminar on Defense Policy and Management, Brussels, Belgium, July 2, 1992. The derived force was based on the distribution by years of service from FY 1987 through FY 1989—a period of stable funding preceding the drawdown.[back to paragraph]