The Army Keeps Boosting Recruiting Bonuses as It Struggles to Find New Soldiers

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New recruits are welcomed by  U.S. Army. drill sergeants.
New soldiers arriving for their first day of Basic Combat Training, Aug. 19, 2016, on Fort Jackson, S.C. are "welcomed" by drill sergeants from both the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)

The Army has become more aggressive with major recruitment bonuses, especially for recruits who elect to ship out to basic training right away, as the force wrestles with numerous recruiting challenges.

The force announced on April 20 that new recruits can earn up to $10,000 bonuses for attending basic training within 30 days of their enlistment, which is called a "quick ship" bonus. That offer is open to at least 60 different jobs, double the total from earlier in the year.

Another 60 jobs in the Army have quick ship bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $6,000. On top of that, at least 14 jobs have additional enlistment bonuses for new recruits, ranging from $1,000 to $40,000.

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Bonuses are capped at $50,000. However, those bonuses are taxed, as much as 25%, according to The Military Wallet, a benefits blog.

The jobs eligible for the bonuses are varied and include infantry, musician and medical technicians. But career fields in signal intelligence, missile defense and special forces have the largest potential for bonuses.

All services are currently offering hefty bonuses for new recruits generally not seen since the peak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as most of the military is facing recruiting shortages. The Army, in its proposed 2023 budget, is looking to decrease the size of the force by about 12,000 soldiers, or about 2.5%, due to the difficulties getting new soldiers to join.

"Recruiting in the military is challenging work," Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, told reporters last month. "We are in a war for talent."

That issue is multifaceted with roughly 70% of young Americans not being qualified for service out of the gate due to being overweight or having minor criminal infractions that show up on a background check, according to the Department of Defense. Difficulty passing the Army's academic exam also plays a role, as well as some Americans not having a high school diploma or a GED.

The civilian workforce has also become more favorable to employees, with companies having to battle for talent as workers have become more empowered to demand higher salaries, more robust benefits and a greater work-life balance since the pandemic amid low unemployment.

Recruiters have also been unable to recruit in-person out of high schools and colleges since the pandemic, though with restrictions lifted in most of the country in recent months, that should become less of a hurdle.

With the post-9/11 wars winding down, Army recruiting commercials have focused more on jobs in tech and selling itself as a diverse force that's welcoming to LGBTQ troops, something that could be a key concern for Gen Z recruits. However, there is still plenty of advertising directed to potential recruits looking to get into ground combat roles and things that go boom. The 75th Ranger Regiment regularly publishes high-production-value recruiting ads that emphasize combat with rock-heavy scores.

To reach out to the younger generation, some recruiting efforts have been taken to Twitch, a streaming service largely focused on video games. Even BuzzFeed, a digital media company, had a recent paid promotion from the Army with its own quiz in the site's signature style.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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