WASHINGTON --- In an effort to achieve Army Recruiting Command's "largest within-year mission increase ever," the Army is offering $200 million in enlistment incentive bonuses for future soldiers heading to specialties that especially need to be filled, USAREC’s deputy commander said.
Army Brig. Gen. Donna W. Martin said the bonuses took effect Jan. 26, and the total amount offered is the largest in five years.
The 2017 National Defense Appropriation Act raised the number of new recruits required to fill active end strength from 62,500 to 68,500, and the increase has to be attained by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, she added.
While the bonuses likely will be a factor in a young person's decision to enlist, Martin said, the heavy lifting will still be done by recruiters pounding the pavement, speaking to prospects, parents, school faculty and others.
"The challenge will be for recruiters to go out and find those young men and women," Martin said, adding that "they do exist." But many of today's youth lead sedentary lives and are obese, she said, noting that three in 10 don’t meet the Army weight standards.
Martin said she hopes veterans and community leaders will go out into the schools and encourage administrators to keep physical education in their required curriculum and to offer healthier food choices on the school menu.
She also said she hopes these unofficial ambassadors for the Army will mention the many benefits of joining the Army and the importance of serving their country.
Not Lowering Standards
Despite many young people not meeting the fitness threshold required, the Army will not lower its standards, Martin said. In fact, with the introduction of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, in January, all recruits now have to pass a rigorous physical test that determines which, if any, military occupational specialties the future soldiers will be eligible for.
Thus far, the OPAT hasn't had a noticeable impact on the success of the recruiting mission, Martin said. In fact, she added, she welcomes the institution of the OPAT because it will help to determine if the right people will be in the right jobs. That could lower the attrition rates in basic and follow-on training for jobs with high physical demands, she explained.
The OPAT also could affect retention and readiness in a good way, Martin said, because if the right people are in the right jobs, that should help lower the stress levels and injury rates later on.
U.S. Economy a Factor
Recruiting also has other challenges, Martin said. The overall economy has been improving, and while that's good for the nation, it doesn't necessarily translate into good news for the recruiting mission.
Also, she said, some states have increased the minimum wage to levels of basic pay that new soldiers receive, so recruiters may find it harder to sell a career as a soldier to their young prospects.
With all of these challenges, Martin said, she's particularly concerned about the welfare and well-being of the hard-working recruiters and their families.
"Every leader in U.S. Army Recruiting Command is charged with ensuring soldiers and their families have balance and predictability in their lives and that not too much strain is placed on them. It will be a tough mission, but not one that we cannot accomplish together."