For the first time in its history, the US military will offer a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to certain recruits who have committed six years of service.
The Associated Press reports that this bonus has been implemented in an effort to bring in new recruits amid a significant drop in membership. Many of these new members will be assigned to jobs that have experienced low numbers due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. The recruitment effort will also seek to compensate for the closure of some schools across the country.
“We are still living the implications of 2020 and the start of COVID, when the school system was basically shut down,” said Major General Kevin Wren, the head of the Army Recruiting Command. “We lost an entire class of young men and women we didn’t have face-to-face contact with.”
For time not spent enrolling in schools, those who sign up for high-priority areas will be awarded a maximum bonus of up to $50,000. Many recruits in these fields will have high standards and expectations, so getting the bonus will not be easy. However, the army hopes that this competition will ensure that they get the best possible recruits.
The final figure depends on when recruits agree to go out for training, if they already have significant skills and if they choose airborne or ranger positions. Certain careers—such as missile defense teams, special forces, signals intelligence, and fire control specialists who coordinate battlefield weapons operations—can often come with maximum bonuses. But other major jobs include Infantry, Intelligence Analyst, Combat Medicine Specialist, Military Police, Combat Engineer and many more. Those bonuses may change each month based on available places in the training pipeline and other service requirements.
So far, the military has offered a maximum bonus of $40,000.
“We are in a competitive market,” Viren said. “How we encourage is absolutely essential, and it’s absolutely something we know is important for someone to come and try to join forces.”
Sergeant First Class Mary James has been working as a recruiter in Ohio since November 2020, and she said the early months—when COVID-19 was on the rise and there were no vaccines—were challenging. It got better, and he said that the higher bonus would help him.
“Money isn’t always the first thing they talk about, but it does come into play,” said James, who has served in the military for 15 years. “It’ll be exciting to see what the return on that is. You know, I think it puts us in one of the top tier tiers of competing businesses.”
James, who previously worked as a Signals Intelligence Analyst, can also talk to recruits about the exciting opportunities the military can offer and deploy in war zones. And she said she hears a lot of questions and concerns about sustainability, leaving home and a career that could take them from place to place every few years.
Wren said the military was doing more to address such concerns. Last fall, the Army significantly increased the two-year enlistment option, expanding it to a total of 84 different career fields. And some will be able to choose where they will be assigned initially — an advantage Army leaders have approved in an effort to be more family-friendly and strengthen the recruiting effort, especially in the pandemic.
According to Viren, the total amount of bonuses available has not been determined. But funding has dwindled every year since its 2018 peak of more than $485 million, after the military failed to meet its annual enlistment target. In the fiscal year ending September 30, the military spent more than $233 million on bonuses, with approximately 16,500 recruits receiving an average enlistment bonus of more than $14,000.
“We want to promote the value of serving your country first,” Viren said. “But we also know that, this generation and I think human nature, you know, is also all about compensation.”
For James, the money can help him meet his recruiting goal because the military uses what’s called a “bathtub” in the months of February through May, when recruiting is historically at its low point. During the spring, more than 9,400 Army recruits seek and sign up people who have already graduated from high school and college. Recruiting traditionally spikes as students graduate in the spring and begin looking for jobs.
James said his goal is to get 20 qualified candidates a week to take the initial recruitment step, and last week he got 75% of that. She had more success around the holidays, but now it’s more difficult.
Complicating the issue is the highly contagious Omicron variant, which is prompting some school systems to shut down – like recruiters wanting to go to schools or sporting events to lure candidates in.
As a result, Brigadier General John Cushing, the deputy commander of the Recruiting Command, said the Army had decided to change its bonus system. In previous years, Cushing said, the Army had spread bonuses. “Like peanut butter evenly throughout the accession (recruitment) year.” This year, the money will be concentrated over the next few months when it is really needed.
“It’s definitely a weapon that we have in our arsenal. And I think we’ve used it effectively, and I’m pretty confident we’ll have it again this year,” Cushing said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.