Two years into the pandemic, and now with Department of Defense-wide vaccine mandates threatening early discharge for all troops not in compliance, the US Army is struggling to meet its enlistment quotas, especially for jobs deemed "critical" and highly skilled, for which the military typically spends a lot - sometimes millions - for training.
To lure new recruits, the Army is rolling out with its maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 - to be offered on a broader scale for all "highly skilled" recruits who agree to sign a six year contract, according to the Associated Press.
Aside from the likelihood that many young people are surely turned off to the prospect of enduring already rigorous boot camp and training in a mask and other social distancing practices, military recruiters say they had a tough past couple years during rolling school closures and restricted campuses, due to pandemic shutdowns and distance learning.
In addition, youth sporting events are typically places where recruiters are present, but these have also been sporadically halted. Recruiters say the current spike in the Omicron variant is also playing a role in keeping interested people away, and increasing numbers of 18- or 19-year-olds are opting to take a 'gap year' off before they decide on either college or military service.
"We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down," the chief of Army Recruiting Command, Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, told AP. "We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn’t have contact with, face-to-face."
"We’re in a competitive market," Vereen added. "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." Up to this point, the maximum the Army offered for the top jobs which are highly skilled has been $40,000. But not everyone qualifies for the top-tier bonuses. Among careers that can come with the big signing bonus on a six-year contract include:
- Signals intelligence analyst
- Special Forces units
- Fire control specialists overseeing advanced weapons
- Cryptologic Linguist
- Human intelligence collector
Many of the above, particularly special forces and intel-related positions, also including highly technical jobs, require special tests and successful passage of special training programs.
Meanwhile, Secretary Austin has been purging the unvaccinated from the U.S. military.— Roger D. Hudson (@RogerHudsonCO) January 3, 2022
The Army to discharge nearly 3,000 soldiers… More than 200 Marines separated for refusing the vaccine — many over religious objections. https://t.co/iZRIFhweVx
The report indicates that February through May typically see the lowest numbers of the year in terms of attracting new recruits, even in pre-pandemic times. The Army being able to advertise a full $50,000 signing bonus is intended to reverse the expected tougher than normal coming season.