The 37th Vice Chief of the U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Martin reenlist Sgt. Judy Luna. Luna is currently serving as Martin’s enlisted aide. Photo by Staff Sgt. Catrina Rubi

Understanding COVID-19 retention policy changes can ease separation, career worries

Soldiers who have expiration term of service dates before Sept. 30 may be eligible to extend their service due to the COVID-19 situation.

This is just one of the retention changes Department of the Army officials announced in late March. Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall career counselor Staff Sgt. Kendra Rayburn said the installation’s retention team is ready to help affected Soldiers determine their best career options.

“A lot of Soldiers who have signed a Declination of Continued Service Statement are under the impression that they have to leave the Army,” explained Rayburn. “Because of COVID-19, Headquarters DA made the decision to assist these Soldiers because many have lost job offers, they may have had. Soldiers who are supposed to get out of the Army before Sept. 30, can remove their statements. The understanding is that we need these Soldiers and the Soldiers need the Army.”

Rayburn said that there is a streamlined process for removing declination statements which Soldiers can do online. All the career counselors in the National Capital Region are working with clients virtually, via email, phone or other media platforms.

“The removal packet now includes a statement that this is due to COVID-19,” Rayburn said. “That way, when we send it up to the commander for approval, they know the Soldier has looked at the bigger picture for themselves and their Family and are making this action to protect their well-being.”

She said that the new policy relaxes the time period requirement for physical fitness tests. As long as a Soldier has passed the test, results from 2019 or 2018 are acceptable.

“The commander’s role is big in this process,” Rayburn added. “They trust the counselors’ judgement. We fully research the Soldier and give them briefs. Commanders then reach out to the Soldier to verify. But the approval process has been amazing so far, even working virtually.”

The retention team has been averaging seven to 10 reenlistments or extensions since the policy changes were announced.

She noted that counselors have reviewed the declination statements on file and have reached out to those Soldiers to let them know about the extension changes. They are also reaching out to those Soldiers scheduled for regular transitions to let them know about the new Victor Extension policy. Soldiers who are within six months of their ETS date can request reenlistment or extension for a period of three to 11 months.

“These are the Soldiers we really want to talk to,” said Rayburn. “They may have concerns about the current economic climate. Usually, we have certain hours that are common for Soldiers to reach out to us, but I had someone call me at 7 p.m. the other night because he had made his decision to extend and wanted to start the process. We are ready to help these Soldiers at any time.”

In addition to assisting Soldiers with the COVID-19 policy changes, Rayburn said that her office and all the area counselors are still helping personnel manage their military careers in the virtual service environment.

“One of the biggest parts of being a career counselor is talking with Soldiers, which we’re doing over the phone or email about their career, what they’ve done and what they want to do,” she explained. “We show them what their career can look like over the course of a 20-year period. We help them pinpoint assignments or schools along the way that they would like to do to help them get to their goal.”

Soldiers can also call for advice on how the current stop-move orders are going to affect them.

“We are doing a lot of virtual counseling on how the assignment process is going to work and what they need to be aware of as far as their movement options,” Rayburn said.

She said that for those concerned with promotions at the centralized level, for those staff sergeants getting selected to sergeant first class or above, her office is ready to assist.

“When a Soldier’s sequence number for promotion comes up, they reach out to us and we expedite a contract through the command team so they can meet the service requirement. We send the contracts on to (U.S. Army) Human Resources Command,” she said. “HRC is being just as responsive as before the COVID restrictions.”

Rayburn suggested married Soldiers include their spouses in counseling sessions about the new changes or their careers.

“Being in the Army is a Family affair and continuing your career is a Family affair,” she said. “We want the Family to be happy and if we can have the spouse involved in the decision making, we encourage it.”

To reach the JBM-HH retention team, Soldiers can contact Staff Sgts. Rayburn at (703) 994-7703 or Catrina Rubi at (202) 365-0147. The counselors work with Soldiers assigned to the 3d Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard” or National Capital region. To contact the career counselors, please email then at kendra.m.rayburn.mil@mail.mil or catrina.s.rubi.mil@mail.mil.

“We want Soldiers to know the career counselors are still here for them and they can reach out to us whenever they need assistance,” stressed Rubin. “We want them to know about the new policies because these changes are helping support readiness and maintaining the end strength of the Army.”