October 11, 2007 in Nation/World

Army officers get bonuses to stay

Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post

WASHINGTON – 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 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.

More than 18,000 Army captains are eligible for the bonuses.

An additional 900 officers have taken other incentives to stay on.

“In the Army there has never been anything like this in memory,” said Col. Paul Aswell, director of officer policy for Army personnel. “The bonuses are … a measure of payback to the family. They get this windfall, to ease some of the pain of service in this environment.”

Captains are a mainstay of the Army’s combat units, even more so in the decentralized counterinsurgencies of Iraq and Afghanistan. Infantry captains lead companies of about 120 soldiers, and most have served one, two or three year-long combat tours since 2001.

In Iraq, such officers are considered key to the military transition teams that are expected to increase as the mission of the 169,000 U.S. troops there shifts from combat to training Iraqi security forces.

Captains, who are generally in their 20s or early 30s, usually have three to 10 years of Army experience and earn basic pay of $4,000 to $5,000 a month. The rank of captain is often a critical juncture in an officer’s career, when most decide whether to leave the service or stay until retirement.

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