Guard Boosts Bonuses to Lure Recruits

Struggling under the burden of the Iraq war, the Army National Guard will be tripling some signing bonuses to turn around lagging recruitment while seeking a huge influx of cash to replace equipment destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Guard's top officer said today.

After falling short of recruitment goals, the Guard plans to boost bonuses from $5,000 to $15,000 for current enlistees who sign up for another six-year stint, while bonuses for first-time recruits will jump from $6,000 to $10,000 — a sum that is tax-free for those abroad.

The Guard also will be boosting the number of recruiters from 2,700 to 4,100 and is adjusting its advertising campaign and slogans away from so-called "weekend warriors" to better appeal to recruits who will more readily accept a deployment abroad.

Seeking to replenish its ranks, the Guard also needs $20 billion more over the next three years to repair equipment destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters at the Pentagon.

"Otherwise, the Guard will be broken and not ready the next time it's needed, either here at home or for war," Blum said.

The changes were aimed at refashioning a service many Guard members say is overburdened by the expanding fight against terrorism.

Despite higher than average retention levels, the Guard's ranks have been hit by a drop in the number of former full-time soldiers who exit active duty and enlist in the Guard.

More than 100,000 of the Guard's 340,000 members are now deployed abroad, and many complain they face enemy fire with equipment inferior to that of their Army colleagues.

Expecting to serve one weekend each month and two weeks in the summer for their pay while holding down civilian jobs, many Guard members have found themselves on active duty in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There's no question that when you have a sustained ground combat operation going that the Guard's participating in, that makes recruiting more difficult," Blum said.

"We are putting our money where our mouth is. We value the contribution these citizen-soldiers make and we're willing to compensate them for the sacrifices that we're asking them to make and the hardships that we're asking them to endure," he said.