Army ups top bonuses for recruits to $50K amid COVID-related staffing issues

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The U.S. Army is for the first time offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to highly skilled recruits who join for six years, The Associated Press has learned, as the service struggles to lure soldiers into certain critical jobs amid the continuing pandemic.

Major General Kevin Vereen, head of Army Recruiting Command, told AP that shuttered schools and the competitive job market over the past year have posed significant challenges for recruiters. So heading into the most difficult months of the year for recruiting, the Army is hoping that some extra cash and a few other changes will entice qualified young people to sign up.

“We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down,” said Vereen. “We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn't have contact with, face-to-face.”

Two years of the pandemic have made it more difficult to recruit in schools and at public events, and the competition for quality workers has intensified as young people weigh their options.

Some, said Vereen, are taking what he calls a gap year, and “are making the decision that they don't necessarily need to work right now.”


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The annual recruiting goal fluctuates as currently serving soldiers decide whether to reenlist or leave. In the last two years, as the pandemic raged, many decided to stay in, lessening the pressure on recruiting. Last year's recruiting goal was 57,500, and Vereen said it will be about the same this year.

To entice recruits, those who sign up for a six-year enlistment in one of several high-demand career fields can get bonuses that total as much as $50,000. Given the high standards, it will be difficult for many to qualify for the top bonus.

The final figure depends on when they agree to ship out for training, if they already have critical skills and if they choose airborne or ranger posts. Certain careers — such as missile defense crew, special forces, signals intelligence and fire control specialists who coordinate battlefield weapons operations — can often come with the maximum bonuses. But other key jobs include infantry, intelligence analyst, combat medic specialist, military police, combat engineer and several others. And those may change every month, based on available spots in the training pipeline and other service needs.

Until now, the Army has offered a maximum bonus of $40,000.

“We're in a competitive market,” said Vereen. “How we incentivize is absolutely essential, and that is absolutely something that we know that is important to trying to get somebody to come and join the military.”


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According to Vereen, the total amount of bonuses available hasn't been set. But the money has decreased every year since a peak of more than $485 million in 2018, after the Army failed to meet its annual recruiting goal. In the fiscal year that ended last September 30, the Army spent more than $233 million on bonuses, with about 16,500 recruits getting an average enlistment bonus of more than $14,000.

“We want to promote the value of serving your country first,” said Vereen. “But we also know that, this generation and I guess human nature, you know, it's all about compensation, too.”


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Compounding the issue is the highly contagious Omicron variant, which is prompting some school systems to shut down — just as recruiters want to get into the schools or get out to sports events to woo candidates.

As a result, Brigadier General John Cushing, the deputy commander at Recruiting Command, said the Army decided to tweak its bonus systems. In previous years, said Cushing, the Army spread out the bonuses “sort of evenly like peanut butter across the whole accessions (recruiting) year.” This year, the money will be concentrated in the next few months when it is really needed.

“It is certainly a weapon that we have in our arsenal. And I think we've used it effectively and I'm very confident we'll get after it again this year,” said Cushing.

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