Strug­gling Army of­fers sol­diers up to $90,000 bonus to re-en­list.

Re­verses down­siz­ing un­der Obama

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY LOLITA C. BALDOR

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.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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