Army Offering Bonuses to Retain Officers
The Army is bribing its captains to stay in the service.
The Army is offering cash bonuses of up to $35,000 to retain young officers serving in key specialties — including military intelligence, infantry and aviation — in an unprecedented bid to forestall a critical shortage of officer ranks that have been hit hard by frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials said that lengthy and repeated war-zone tours — the top reason younger officers leave the service — plus the need for thousands of new officers as the Army moves forward with expansion plans have contributed to a projected shortfall of about 3,000 captains and majors for every year through 2013.
In response, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved the unusual incentives last month as a temporary measure for this fiscal year, and over the past three weeks, more than 6,000 Army captains have accepted cash awards ranging from $25,000 to $35,000 in exchange for committing to serve three more years.
In a speech at an Army conference yesterday, Gates said that holding on to today’s combat veteran officers is vital to reshaping and rebuilding the force for the future — and this could mean rethinking Cold War-era promotion policies. “There is a generation of junior and mid-level officers and NCOs [noncommissioned officers] who have been tested in battle like none other in decades,” he said. “These men and women need to be retained, and the best and brightest advanced . . . to use their experience to shape the institution.”
According to Army data, the overall attrition rate for captains averaged 12.2 percent from 1999 to 2007. But the estimated captain deficits for the past year were pronounced in some fields that require heavy deployments, such as military intelligence, where the Army is short 10 percent; transportation, where the gap reaches 21 percent; and aviation, where the shortfall is 11 percent.
Army officials said the projected officer shortage is mainly the result of the Army’s plan to add 65,000 active-duty soldiers to its ranks — including more than 6,000 captains and majors — by 2010. The cash incentives for captains are unprecedented in scope and size, and are intended in part as compensation for soldiers’ long separations from their families.
I agree with Thomas Barnett that money alone won’t fix the retention problem. Further, while I support bonuses to get young enlisted troops to re-up, I’m leery of doing so for the Army’s leaders.
We’ve had an all-volunteer force since 1973 and the good has far outweighed the bad. We’re seeing now, though, the effects of a long-term war on the system. While many soldiers are eager to go to combat to “do what we trained for,” long deployments are devastating to family life.
It’s far from clear, though, what the alternatives are. The Army exists to fight our nation’s wars and, unpopular though it now is, our elected leaders chose to fight this one. Increasing the size of the Army lessens the burden on individual soldiers but exacerbates the difficulties of recruiting and retaining enough people.