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$45,000 is latest Army sweetener for recruits

Chicago Tribune

With the Army entrenched in two protracted wars while trying to increase its overall troop levels, commanders are finding they have to sweeten the pot to attract a few good men and women and keep the ones they already have.

Next month, the Army is launching the Army Advantage Fund, a pilot program that offers recruits $45,000 toward buying a house or new business upon completion of their military stint. That program comes on top of thousands of “quick-ship” bonuses that the Army doled out this year to recruits who agreed to ship out to basic training within 30 days, as well as ongoing reenlistment programs to retain those with special skills.

At the same time, the Army is hoping to sign up at least 2,000 recruits over the next year into Active First, a new program that allows enlistees to start their service on active duty and complete it in the National Guard. The Army also hopes to bolster troop levels through peer-to-peer recruiting programs that give soldiers bonuses for persuading friends and family to enter the service.

And looking ahead, the military hopes to get more money to assist in the needs of military families.

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More attention to their needs is crucial if the services are to retain personnel after their initial tour of duty ends.

Though the Army managed to meet recruiting goals for the last fiscal year, commanders have acknowledged that the terrain is only getting rougher as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, deputy chief of staff for personnel, said the Army would continue to rely on the unpopular “stop-loss” program that required some soldiers to stay with their unit beyond their retirement or reenlistment dates. Army leaders reported this month that for the fifth straight year they gave more waivers to recruits with criminal history and medical issues, and that less than 80% of new enlistees had a high school diploma.

A relatively strong job market -- along with resistance from parents in steering young people toward military lives -- is further complicating the recruiters’ mission. And senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, say they worry they are losing many of their best troops to private security companies working in Iraq and Afghanistan that can offer double or triple what the military pays.

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“In order to be competitive, we simply have to be in the marketplace with them,” said Rochelle, explaining the reasoning behind the “novel” ways the Army hopes to beef up recruitment over the next year.

Spc. Victor Taylor, 32, who plans on reenlisting next month to a six-year contract with the New York National Guard, said the cash incentive was not the reason he decided to stick with his unit, the 42nd Infantry Division.

But he acknowledges that the $15,000 bonus he will receive is a nice perk.

Taylor, who served six years in the Marines in the 1990s, said his contract expired at the beginning of this month, weeks before his unit -- which already has spent a year in Iraq -- was set to head to Egypt for a training exercise.

A former sheriff’s deputy in upstate New York, Taylor said he decided to join the Guard in 2006 because he missed the camaraderie of the military.

At his commander’s suggestion, Taylor said, he signed a one-year contract this month as a bridge until his unit heads for Egypt, where he plans to sign a six-year extension.

By signing the long-term contract in Egypt, he ensures his signing bonus will be tax-free.


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