Army Ups Max Enlistment Bonus to $50,000 as COVID Dents Recruiting

January 12, 2022Hannah Ray Lambert
Army enlistment bonus

A US Special Operations Forces soldier assigned to 10th Special Forces Group shoots during a training exercise near Stuttgart, Germany, Jan. 28, 2020. US Army photo by Jason Johnston. Composite image by Coffee or Die Magazine.

What would you do with $50,000? If you join the Army this year, you might get to find out. But you’ll have to do it soon.

As recruits continue to shy away during a pandemic and booming job market, the Army plans to offer an unprecedented series of enlistment bonuses that could top out at $50,000 to fill key jobs during the ongoing pandemic.

The Associated Press first reported the new pay policy Wednesday, Jan. 12.

School closures due to COVID-19, coupled with a competitive job market, have made recruiting over the past two years difficult, Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of Army Recruiting Command, told the AP.

“We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn’t have contact with, face-to-face,” Vereen said.

In an army release, Vereen also said the Army would be opening up rarely-offered two-year contracts for 84 different career fields. But the big money will go to recruits who sign up for a six-year enlistment in high-demand jobs.

Army enlistment bonus
Medics practice loading and unloading casualties from a UH-60 Black Hawk during a casualty evacuation exercise, April 19, 2012. US Army photo by Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio.

The total cash a recruit can collect can grow as high as $50,000 thanks to a series of time- and job-specific bonuses. Career-based bonuses are largely unchanged, topping out at $40,000 for high-need jobs, but the Army will now offer both “accession” bonuses on a first-come basis for those careers, plus “quick ship” bonuses for those who can ship to basic training within 90 days. The shipping incentives range from $2,000 to $9,000, with quicker shippers getting the higher dollar amounts.

Volunteering for Airborne school can add $10,000, while Rangers can get an extra $20,000. Fluency in a high-need foreign language can be worth up to $40,000.

In its announcement, the Army laid out one possible path to a full $50,000 bonus: A six-year enlistment as an air and missile defense crew member is eligible for $40,000, plus a new $9,000 accession bonus, and then a “quick ship” bonus to get the $50,000 max.

Normally, a new recruit would need to be well into his or her career before seeing a $50,000 payday. Military pay rates for 2022 approved late last year put most of the enlisted force well below that mark in annual base pay. An E-6 with 12 years of experience or an E-7 with at least six years in are the lowest ranks at which most enlisted military members can expect to break $50,000 in base pay. Officers start to bring home close to $50,000 in their third year in the O-1 pay grade or as soon as they are promoted to O-2.

Key jobs include missile defense crew, special forces, intelligence analyst, combat medic specialist, military police, and combat engineer.

The new bonuses will likely supersede the previous round of Army bonuses, which topped out at $40,000 and included up to $9,000 for signing up as an infantryman, fire control specialist, or parachute rigger. The Army also already offers a $10,000 quick ship bonus for those who report to basic training within 30 days of signing their contract and a $20,000 prior service enlistment bonus for qualified members at E-4 and below who enlist in high-need jobs.

The total number of available bonuses has not been set yet but Army officials say the bonus money will likely go fast. While previous cycles spread bonus money across a full year, the plan in 2022, one official told the AP, is to drive interest by getting more of the money out sooner.

“We’re in a competitive market,” Vereen told the AP. “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.”

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Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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