||D. Michael Abrashoff
||Grand Central Publishing
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My story might be called "The Education of USS Benfold" which is a guided missile destroyer that I commanded for twenty months beginning in June 1997. Commissioned in 1996 for duty in the Pacific Fleet, the ship is a beautiful fighting machine: 8,300 tons of armor protecting the Navy's most advanced arsenal of computerized missiles; a radar system that can track a bird-size object from fifty miles away; a highly skilled crew of 310 men and women; and four gas turbine engines capable of driving the ship to thirty-one knots—nearly thirty-five miles an hour—as it speeds into combat, shooting up a huge rooster-tail backwash. To be given this spectacular vessel as my first sea command was thrilling, but also ironic. Opportunity had called, but in a troubled industry. Our military has spent a lot of time and money preparing for tomorrow's battles with antiquated methods. We continue to invest in the latest technologies and systems, but, as we all know, technology is nothing but a facilitator. The people operating the equipment are who give us the fighting edge, and we seem to have lost our way when it comes to helping them grow. The statistics are startling. In recent years, nearly 40 percent, or almost 80,000, of the 200,000 people who join the military annually, won't complete their enlistment contract. Although most will leave the service involuntarily, doing so is not a reflection of their character. Of those who do complete their first hitch, a very small percentage will reenlist —not nearly enough to keep our senior billets filled. Worse yet, the best talents are often the first to leave. Since it takes $35,000 to recruit a trainee and tens of thousands more in additional training costs to get new personnel to the basic level of proficiency, the cost of this attrition to the taxpayer is staggering. And that cost is only the beginning, since the dropouts go home and counter-recruit against us, making it even harder to convince others to join.