The U.S. Army is now offering up to $50,000 enlistment bonuses in order to recruit new soldiers amid a COVID-induced recruiting slump, the service announced Wednesday. Enlistment bonuses were previously capped at $40,000.
Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of Army Recruiting Command, told the Associated Press that pandemic-era closures made it difficult to recruit at high schools. The rebounding job market has also given potential recruits more opportunities outside the Army, exacerbating the recruiting challenge.
“We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down,” Vereen explained. “We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn’t have contact with, face-to-face.”
In order to overcome those recruiting challenges, the Army is offering an up to $50,000 bonus for recruits who sign up for a six-year enlistment in one of several high-demand specialties. The final bonus amount will depend somewhat on when recruits agree to ship out for training and if they accept airborne or ranger posts.
Those who choose specialties like missile defense crew, special forces, signals intelligence and fire control specialists who coordinate weapons operations throughout a battlefield are often eligible for the maximum possible bonuses.
Other specialties, like infantry, intelligence analyst, combat medic specialist, military police and combat engineer, are also eligible for high-end bonuses, but those bonus amounts are more susceptible to change each month, based on the availability of training spots and other service needs.
The Army is ultimately trying to maintain a force size of around 485,000 troops. In order to maintain that number, the Army has a goal to recruit about 57,500. The recruitment goal is about the same as it was last year, but up until recently, the maximum enlistment bonus was $40,000.
“We’re in a competitive market,” Vereen told the Associated Press. “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.”
Vereen could not say how much total bonus money was available. The amount of total bonus money available has been in decline since a peak in 2018 when the Army had $485 million available after missing its annual recruiting goal. Last fiscal year, the Army spent $233 million on bonuses and 16,500 recruits got an average enlistment bonus of around $14,000.
Vereen said the Army has taken other steps to entice new recruits, concerned about long-term commitments, stability and the potential of having to move frequently. In a move Army leaders approved to make military service a more family-friendly option, the branch has offered some recruits the opportunity to choose where they will initially be assigned, potentially giving recruits the chance to avoid having to move their families long-distance or allowing them to be closer to home.
This last fall, the Army also expanded the number of specialties with a two-year contract option, with 84 different specialties now offering that short-term enlistment option.