The Army, pleased with the quality of its enlistees these days, has launched a "quality of life" study to determine how it might get them to stay longer.

A crucial need, the survey finds, is decent homes that soldiers can afford.

This is particularly true in cities like Washington, according to the Army's personnel chief, Lt. Gen. DeWitt C. Smith Jr., where soldiers often have to moonlight and their spouses take jobs to make the extra money needed to buy or rent a decent home.

Although military bases privide housing for some of the officers and enlisted people, Smith said, there is a big gap between supply and demand. The Army figures it has only about one-third of the housing it needs.

"The most significant factor of all" for achieving quality of life for today's enlisted people, Smith said in an interivew, "is housing. You're talking about money, debt, a decent place to live for those you love, a reasonable proximity to work" which, in turn, determines how much one pays for transportation and whether base facilities are within easy reach of the family.

Yet, Smith continued, the Army does not have the money to provide the housing for everybody who wants it and thus must settle for improving the current situation.

Army people will accept the shortage of housing if, through improving the current situation, "you can show a good-faith effort is being made," he said.

The "quality of life" study to determine what Army people want most is still under way, Smith said.

On the basis of his own four-month look at the Army since becoming its personnel chief on Aug. 1, Smith said "the news is good" as far as the activeduty ranks are concerned but the big gaps persist in the reserve forces.

Under good news, he listed a drop in the desertion rate from 52.8 incidents for every 1,000 soldiers in fiscal 1972 to 9.9 in fiscal 1977; a higher percentage of high school graduates enlisting, and more first-enlistment soldiers signing up for a second tour of duty.

Women, he said, have turned out to be some of the best performing soldiers in the volunteer Army. Currently the Army isanalyzing the physical requierments of all its jobs, partly to see how many more specialties could be filled by women.