Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Special Message to the Congress on Career Incentives for Military Personnel

January 13, 1955

To the Congress of the United States:

We are traditionally a peace-loving people with a heritage rounded on the dignity of the individual. Because our defense planning is developed within this framework, we seek to man our armed forces with volunteers to the greatest extent possible. This is a basic objective.

To sustain our active forces at required levels of strength and efficiency, it is necessary to increase the present rate of voluntary enlistments. It is also necessary to induce volunteers, both officers and enlisted men, to continue in the service on a career basis in order to obtain maximum usefulness from the skills and leadership which are achieved after long and costly training. The increasing mechanization and complexity of defense forces make technical skills and a wide background of experience vastly more important than ever before.

The need for forces of the size now contemplated in our planning is obvious. The responsibilities and obligations imposed on us by our position of leadership in world affairs require that we stand prepared to shoulder the accompanying burdens.


But at this time when we must still maintain large forces under arms and alerted throughout the world, it is difficult to attract and retain volunteers, both enlisted and commissioned.

For example, only 11.6 percent of Army personnel reenlisted in 1954 compared with a rate of 41.2 percent in 1949. The other services, particularly the Marine Corps, have also experienced sharp drops in the rate of reenlistments and today the composite rate for all services is 20 percent.

Approximately one million enlisted men will become eligible for release from the military services during the coming year. Under present low reenlistment rates, it will be necessary to replace about 800,000 of these men.

The investment in this skilled manpower is enormous. For example, it costs approximately $3,200 to put one man through the normal course of basic training. It costs an additional $2,000 to $5,000 to train a man in the typical technical skills that are so essential in the military system of today. It costs $120,000 to train a jet pilot.

These are just a few indications of the expense associated with training alone. Moreover, the cost of equipment, transportation and other items goes up as the rate of personnel turnover increases.

The seriousness of the situation was recognized by the 83rd Congress when it substantially raised reenlistment bonuses.


Field studies made by the Services have attempted to pinpoint reasons for the high personnel turnover rate. A very large portion of the military personnel surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with traditional service benefits such as PX facilities, dependents' medical care, family housing, death benefits for survivors and related items. Wherever administrative action can improve conditions, action is being taken by the Services. However, legislation is necessary for changes in most benefits and in the level of compensation.

Since 1949 there has been one increase in pay which, along with increases in allowances, amounted to an aggregate advance in compensation of 5.7 percent. Military pay, nevertheless, has fallen behind that of industry. In addition, supplementary pay practices, health, security and retirement benefits and bonus systems are now widespread throughout industry, and this fact tends to neutralize such advantage as the military services had in these fields.


While the high turnover in military personnel is costly in dollars, even more costly is the loss of experience and operational efficiency which results from it.

We are losing too many men trained in leadership and technical skills--the experienced hard core of a modern fighting force. To maintain required percentages of young officers we must obtain them from the service academies and from reserve training units. A certain number should elect to continue a service career beyond the required minimum time. Yet not enough of our younger officers currently continue in military service. In 1954, 4,000 young Naval Reserve officers completed their obligated period of service. Only 200 of these elected to remain in the career service.

As a result of the loss of younger officers, there is a noticeable shortage of officers and men in the services with intermediate levels of experience. In the Army, for example, there are substantially fewer officers with 4 to 10 years service than with I o to 15 years experience. In the other services, a similar situation exists. A large percentage of officers in the older age group who saw service in World War II and in Korea outnumbers a proportionately smaller group of younger officers. We must not allow this trend to continue.

A continuing shrinkage in the rolls of young experienced commissioned and non-commissioned officers will blunt the battle readiness of our combat units.


Peacetime military service has become more arduous, more dangerous and more disruptive of normal living habits. The era of nuclear weapons and jet propulsion has drawn our services into new dimensions of hazard and uncertainty. For example, jet flying is ranked by insurance companies as the most hazardous of all occupations. Many young flyers find it impossible to secure insurance coverage and those who can get it must pay a sizable premium differential.

While we are in a peacetime situation, many men in the Strategic Air Command, the Air Defense Command, and various Naval units are on alert up to 60 hours per week, subject to sudden and prolonged absences from home and loved ones. Airborne troops of the Army and submarine crews of the Navy are also exposed to discomforts and dangers not found in civilian pursuits.


The fundamental objectives to be attained by the proposed legislation are the attraction of young men to a military career and the retention of men in this career once they have chosen it. In addition, it is necessary to offer special attractions to men who undertake the particularly hazardous jobs that are becoming more important as weapons become increasingly complex.

These objectives require compensation which is more in line with that offered by private industry. They also require strengthening of traditional service benefits in recognition of the unusual difficulties facing the serviceman and his family. Servicemen frequently live in isolated areas and under circumstances that can be extremely trying. They are subject to frequent and long absences from their families, enforced on them by their defense missions.

Both pay and the non-pay benefits are important, varying with the status of the men we are trying to attract. At the present time, 60 percent of personnel on active duty are unmarried. These men are less likely to be attracted by deferred or family benefits than by an increase in pay.

So our problem is twofold. On the one hand we must attract more of the young, unmarried men into a military career. On the other, we must provide advantageous benefits for those who have families.

In proposing adjustments in pay I do not recommend that any across-the-board increase should be authorized. Such pay adjustments should foster career service. Specifically, no increase is proposed in the first two years for enlisted men, because this is the least valuable period of a man's service, and no increases are proposed in the first three years for officers. Our efforts should be directed at inducing men to stay on after those periods. For this reason, I consider it highly important that a schedule of selective adjustments be approved.


In summary, my recommendations are as follows:

(1) The compensation of military service personnel should be increased on a selective basis. The aggregate increase proposed would add approximately 6.7 percent to the present level of pay and allowances.

(2) Hazardous duty pay for airmen and submarine crews should be increased, also on a selective basis, and increases also should be made in the hazardous duty pay for parachute duty, demolition work, deep-sea diving and certain other specialties.

(3) Other non-pay benefits should be provided, including:

(a) A "dislocation" allowance for military personnel with dependents who are ordered to a new permanent duty station.

(b) An increase in the per diem allowance for temporary duty travel from $9 to $12, in keeping with a comparable proposal for civilian government employees.

(c) More housing for service families in areas where present facilities are insufficient and authority for reduced rentals where men and their families must live temporarily in substandard housing.

(d) Removal of existing inequities and provision for better medical care for military families.

(e) Equalization of survivor benefits according to rank for active and retired personnel.

These recommendations are vitally important to the welfare of our military people and to the sustained security of the nation. It is the objective of the Government that the size of the active military establishment shall be no greater than is consistent with the needs of national security. It shall always be our objective, in the present world situation, to maintain a military force that we can support for the many years that may be necessary to dispel the shadow of Communist threat. In my judgment, the measures herein presented will strengthen our security and preserve our way of life.

I urge that the Congress give early and favorable consideration to the recommendations I have herein submitted.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Special Message to the Congress on Career Incentives for Military Personnel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232974

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