ACTIVE COMPONENT ENLISTED FORCE
Characteristics of Active Component Enlisted Force
Age. 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 an all-time high of 90 months in FY 1996. Since FY 1996 mean time in service has decreased every year and was just under 83 months in FY 2004. 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, subsequent retention problems have led to a slight decrease in mean age and time in service during the last few years. The FY 2004 mean age of the Services' enlisted force was 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. Generally, the largest proportion of the enlisted force are in pay grades E3 through E6 (77 percent). Service differences are primarily 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 2004, 48 percent of the enlisted force was 17–24 years old, yet one and a half 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. Traditionally the Marine Corps has the youngest accessions and the Air Force experiences higher retention rates. These facts are reflected in the age distributions across Components. In FY 2004 more than two-thirds of Marines were under age 25, and 3 percent 40 years or older. Air Force members were the "oldest" with 43 percent under age 25, and 10 percent 40 years or older.
Although 48 percent of the enlisted force was in the 17–24 age group, approximately 14 percent of the civilian labor force fell in this range. At the other end of the distribution, 52 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]