WASHINGTON – The Army and Marine Corps doled out nearly $640 million in the past year in bonuses to entice recruits to join the military, as the two services continue to bear the brunt of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Buoyed by incentives that can be as high as $40,000 and coupled with the promise of thousands more for education or house down payments, the annual cost grew by 25 percent over last year’s totals for the two services.
The money – particularly in these shaky economic times – has proven to be a strong recruiting tool, even as the U.S. death toll in Iraq surpasses 4,100 and violence in Afghanistan escalates.
As a result, the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force all met their recruiting goals for the fiscal year that ended Tuesday. The Air Force did not provide bonus data.
“This money helps create excitement for the all-volunteer force,” Army spokesman Paul Boyce said. “We recruit not only the soldier but his or her family, and this money is important to them.”
According to data obtained by the Associated Press, the Army and Marine Corps allocated a bit more than $500 million in bonuses and college fund payments in fiscal year 2007, compared to this year’s total of almost $640 million.
Recruits usually receive a portion of the bonus when they report for training and get remaining payments as they report to duty or when they hit specific service dates.
The Army incentives grew from $443 million in 2007 to $547 million this year, while the Marines bonuses jumped from $66 million to nearly $90 million.
The active-duty Army brought in 80,500 recruits for the year, beating its goal of 80,000. The Army Guard and the Army Reserves also met their goals – bringing in about 60,100 and 28,900 respectively.
Complicating the Army’s efforts to meet recruiting goals is the push to increase the size of the nation’s ground force. Plans are to boost the number of the active-duty Army, Army Guard and Army Reserves by 74,000 overall, with the active-duty force growing by 65,000 to a total of 547,000 by 2010.
In addition to the enlistment bonuses and college fund payments, the Army also distributed about $62 million in loan repayments for recruits in the 2008 fiscal year.