Struggling Army offers soldiers up to $90,000 bonus to re-enlist.
Reverses downsizing under Obama
FORT BRAGG, N.C. | Struggling to expand its ranks, the Army will triple the amount of bonuses it’s paying this year to more than $380 million, including more incentives to woo reluctant soldiers to reenlist, officials told The Associated Press.
Some soldiers could get $90,000 upfront by committing to another four or more years, as the Army seeks to reverse some of the downsizing during the Obama administration after years of growth spurred by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The enlistment campaign was driven by Congress’ decision late last year to beef up the size of the Army, echoing the spirit if not quite the extent of President Trump’s campaign promises to significantly increase military staffing and firepower.
Last fall, Mr. Trump announced a plan that would enlarge the Army to 540,000 soldiers. Army leaders back the general idea but say more men and women must be accompanied by funding for the equipment, training and support for them.
Under the current plan, the activeduty Army will grow by 16,000 soldiers, taking it to 476,000 in total by October. The National Guard and the Army Reserve will have smaller expansions.
To meet the mandate, the Army must find 6,000 new soldiers, persuade 9,000 current soldiers to stay on and add 1,000 officers.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, said in an interview at his office in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “I’m not going to kid you. It’s been difficult because a lot of these kids had plans and their families had plans.”
In just the past two weeks, the Army has paid out more than $26 million in bonuses.
The biggest hurdle, according to senior Army leaders, is persuading thousands of enlistees who are only months away from leaving the service to sign up for several more years. Many have been planning their exits and have turned down multiple entreaties to stay.
“The top line message is that the Army is hiring,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Evans, who recently became the service’s head of Human Resources Command.
Gen. Evans said the Army is expanding “responsibly with a focus on quality” and insisted that standards would not be relaxed.
It is a clear reference to last decade, when the Army eased recruitment rules to meet combat demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. At their peak, more than 160,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq and about 100,000 were in Afghanistan. To achieve those force levels, the Army gave more people waivers to enlist, including those with criminal or drug use records.
The Army vows it won’t do that again and would focus instead on getting soldiers to re-enlist. Money is the key.
The Army’s $550 billion base budget, approved by Congress last month, will provide money for the financial incentives. The latest round of increased bonuses, which became effective less than two weeks ago, are good for at least the next month.
Cyber posts, cryptologists or other intelligence or high-tech jobs with certain language skills are particularly rewarded. They can get $50,000 to $90,000 by agreeing to serve another three to five years. Army Special Forces soldiers also can qualify for top-level incentives.
But more routine jobs — such as some lower-level infantry posts — may get nothing or just a couple of thousand dollars.
The bonuses have triggered a spike in re-enlistments, said Master Sgt. Mark Thompson, who works with Army retention policies. The number since May 24 may be more than 2,200, he said.
The Army is about three-quarters of the way to its goal for re-enlistments. But meeting the ultimate target is difficult because the remaining pool of soldiers includes people who “have said no for a long time,” Sgt. Thompson said.
Normally, he said, about a third of eligible soldiers re-enlist each year. This year, the goal requires nearly threequarters signing on for more years.
Struggling to expand its ranks, the Army will triple the amount of bonuses this year to more than $380 million, including incentives to woo reluctant soldiers to re-enlist.