U.S. Army Offers Some New Enlistees $50K Bonus as Service Struggles With Recruitment

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Army will be offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to some recruits who commit to six years of service.

The Associated Press reports that this bonus has been implemented in an attempt to bring in new recruits amid a critical drop in membership. Many of these new members will be assigned to jobs experiencing low numbers due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. The recruitment attempt will also try to make up for the closing of some schools around the country.

"We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down," said Major General Kevin Vereen, who heads the Army Recruiting Command. "We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn't have contact with, face-to-face."

To make up for time not spent recruiting in schools, those signing up for high-priority fields will be given maximum bonuses of up to $50,000. There will be high standards and expectations for many recruits in these fields, so it won't be easy to receive the bonuses. However, the Army hopes that this competition will ensure they receive the best recruits possible.

Recruitment Center
To make up for time not spent recruiting in schools, the U.S. Army is offering bonuses of up to $50,000 for those signing up for high-priority fields. Above, a military recruitment center is seen in Brooklyn on September 4, 2020, in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The final figure depends on when recruits agree to ship out for training, if they already have critical skills and if they choose airborne or ranger posts. Certain careers—such as missile defense crew, special forces, signals intelligence and fire control specialists who coordinate battlefield weapons operations—can often come with the maximum bonuses. But other key jobs include infantry, intelligence analyst, combat medic specialist, military police, combat engineer and several others. Those bonuses may change every month, based on available spots in the training pipeline and other service needs.

Until now, the Army has offered a maximum bonus of $40,000.

"We're in a competitive market," said Vereen. "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."

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 surging and there were no vaccines—were challenging. It's gotten better, and she said the higher bonuses will help her.

"Money isn't always the first thing that they talk about, but it does come into play," said James, who has been in the Army for 15 years. "It will be exciting to see what the return is on that. You know, I think it does put us in one of the top tier levels of competitive businesses."

James, who previously worked as a signals intelligence analyst, can also talk to recruits about deploying to war zones and the exciting opportunities the military offers. And she said she hears a lot of questions and worries about stability, leaving home and a career that may have them moving from place to place every few years.

Vereen said the Army is doing more to address those types of concerns. Last fall, the Army significantly increased the option to enlist for two years, expanding it to a total of 84 different career fields. And some will be able to choose where they will initially be assigned—a benefit Army leaders approved in an effort to be more family-friendly and bolster the recruiting effort, particularly in the pandemic.

According to Vereen, the total amount of bonuses available hasn't been set. But the money has decreased every year since a peak of more than $485 million in 2018, after the Army failed to meet its annual recruiting goal. In the fiscal year that ended last September 30, the Army spent more than $233 million on bonuses, with about 16,500 recruits getting an average enlistment bonus of more than $14,000.

"We want to promote the value of serving your country first," said Vereen. "But we also know that, this generation and I guess human nature, you know, it's all about compensation, too."

For James, the money may help her meet her recruiting goal as the Army heads into what it calls the "bathtub" months of February to May, when recruiting is historically at its low point. During the spring, the Army's more than 9,400 recruiters have to seek out and sign up people who have already graduated from high school and college. Recruiting traditionally spikes as students graduate in the spring and start looking for jobs.

James said her goal is to get 20 qualified candidates a week to take initial enlistment steps, and last week she made 75% of that. She had more success around the holidays, but it's more difficult now.

Compounding the issue is the highly contagious Omicron variant, which is prompting some school systems to shut down—just as recruiters want to get into the schools or get out to sports events to woo candidates.

As a result, Brigadier General John Cushing, the deputy commander at Recruiting Command, said the Army decided to tweak its bonus systems. In previous years, said Cushing, the Army spread out the bonuses. "sort of evenly like peanut butter across the whole accessions (recruiting) year." This year, the money will be concentrated in the next few months when it is really needed.

"It is certainly a weapon that we have in our arsenal. And I think we've used it effectively, and I'm very confident we'll get after it again this year," said Cushing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

I Want You
Due to enlistment struggles, some areas of the U.S. Army will give bonuses of up to $50,000 to new recruits. Above, a military recruitment center is seen in Times Square in Manhattan on September 4, 2020, in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images