Married commanders share retention success

BAGHDAD - Capts. Daniel and Michelle Ramos are married. They are both captains. They both command a company in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. And now, they both have the distinction of making their retention mission for fiscal year 2007.

"I was very excited when we made mission," said Michelle, who commands Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Brigade Support Battalion. "My first sergeant and I were excited to tell the battalion commander that we made mission."

HHC made their mission just a few days shy of the end of the fiscal year, and Michelle, who is from Moon Township, Pa., wasn't shy about admitting that she really didn't think the mission of getting six first-termers, 12 mid-careerists and eight careerists to reenlist was possible. With changes of personnel and missions and later her entire unit picked up and moved to another base, she said that weighed on her unit's retention mission.

Yet, what seemed to be the biggest obstacle were the unknown Soldiers she had never even met back at Fort Hood, Texas assigned to the rear detachment who were added on to her annual mission.

"I was very happy for Michelle and her first sergeant when they made mission, since it was a bit more difficult in their situation in having to deal with rear detachments numbers," said Daniel, Company D, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment who currently serves at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah, in eastern Baghdad.

Daniel and his "Desperados" were the first company to make their mission throughout the entire brigade with a mission of six initials, five mid-careerists and three careerists in early April. Yet, not only did they make their mission, but they overproduced by almost 500 percent, finishing the year off with 23 Soldiers choosing to stay in.

"It is particularly rewarding in a combat environment, especially with our company being the first one in the brigade to meet its mission and receiving the brigade streamer for our guidon," said Daniel, a San Antonio native.

Both Daniel and Michelle give most of the credit back to those who they have said work behind the scenes to make sure their retention program meets only their goals, but more importantly, their Soldiers' individual goals.

"When I took command of the company, it already had an excellent track record for reenlisting Soldiers," he said. "So one of the first things I did was sit down with my senior noncommissioned officer who was responsible for the company's success, 1st Sgt. David Grey, and asked him how do we keep ourselves on track to meet mission. His response was simple, 'Sir, keep focus on the Soldiers and their needs and do not worry about the numbers.' It is a very simple philosophy that worked for our company and it continues to make us very successful."

Michelle and her unit's philosophy is very similar. With her first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Tonia Littlejohn, of Gainesville, Ga., and their unit retention representative, Sgt. Michael Fleury, who is the battalion's communications shop foreman, they worked to make sure every Soldier who reenlisted was happy with their options.

"I'm straight up; I don't promise something they can't get," said Fleury of Springfield, Mass. "For instance, if they want Japan, I go to brigade retention and try to get it for them."

Even as they almost but gave up on making their mission, Michelle said she didn't want to change their approach.

"I'm not 'in your face' about it; they don't want someone breathing down their neck," she said. "I don't want someone doing that to me.

'Most Soldiers make the decision on his or her own," she added. "They just need to see other options to open their eyes and say that at least they explored that avenue."

She said while exploring what each of her Soldiers wanted to do with their futures, that sometimes, the Army wasn't the best option, and she said she understood that and stood by their decision.

"When I asked what their plans were, some of them said, 'I'm not going to re-enlist; I don't like to deploy.' And instead of trying to convince or persuade them, I just asked them to at least go to reenlistment and see what they can offer and just try to see their options," Michelle said. "And if they can say it wasn't good for them and their families, I was fine with that. A lot went and it opened their eyes to different options. I'd rather have a Soldier who will succeed rather than just exist and just go through the motions. In the end, it doesn't help them and the Army."

Over at FOB Rustamiyah, Daniel's who's unit is 75 percent into making next fiscal year's mission in only the second month, said many of his Soldiers are reenlisting due to the increasing bonus amounts during deployment, but that most who re-enlist knowing what their term will face.

"Of course a lot of Soldiers are signing up for the tax-free bonus and choice or assignment, who wouldn't? However, if you take into perspective what these Soldiers are actually signing up for, you gain a much better appreciation of them and their decision to reenlist," he said "They are signing up for two to six more years of service, knowing that they will more than likely return to Iraq or Afghanistan for another deployment and be apart from their families again, but they do it take to take care of their family and believe enough in the Army that they want to make a career of it. That speaks volumes to me about these Soldiers."

Michelle said what Army gains from Soldiers who re-enlist while they are deployed is a combat veteran who will eventually carry on the experiences of being in combat to future Soldiers. "A lot of these E5s have three deployments under their belts and will one day lead their Soldiers; they are the future E6s and E7s," she said.

For Daniel, it's Soldiers such as Sgt. Shayne Semetara who re-enlisted during this deployment who he believes is how he measures his unit's success.

"It was meeting mission with our 13th Soldier was especially rewarding for me as I was able to reenlist the NCO, Sgt. Semetara," he said. "I was his company executive officer in 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry when the battalion initially deployed in support of OIF II. I remember him as a very motivated young private, and now I am reenlisting him in Iraq, as a highly motivated noncommissioned officer, it was an awesome feeling."