Army officials have done all they can to avoid missing this year's recruiting targets, and thanks to a little help from Congress, they believe they've got some new ammunition to swell the ranks.
Last year the Army fell 7,000 recruits short of its goal of 80,000 new troops, the largest recruiting shortfall in decades.
But Army recruiters are now armed with huge signing bonuses for new recruits and are confident they'll meet this year's goals.
Last month Congress approved a doubling of Army signing bonuses, meaning a new recruit could earn as much as $40,000 just for signing on the dotted line. The amount is $20,000 for new reservists. An active duty soldier with a hard-to-fill job who meets all the right criteria could earn a staggering $90,000 for re-enlisting.
But don't think the bonuses will be across the board. The Army's civilian boss, Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey, said the bonuses will be used "judiciously where we need to have it."
According to Harvey, the top-scale bonuses will be used "selectively" to bring in new recruits for skills "that are hard to get" and will also vary depending on the length of enlistment.
For example, new Army recruits who choose training in highly sought after skills and enlist for four years or more would be eligible to receive as much as a $40,000 bonus. However, if the new recruit decides to sign up for only a three-year contract, the maximum bonus allowed drops to $10,000, though some higher-trained jobs will still qualify for the $40,000 maximum.
Army reservists who enlist for six years will qualify for combined bonuses that could total $20,000. The bonuses are paid out in installments through the length of the enlistment contract.
Today Harvey held a briefing for Pentagon reporters to outline the new recruiting incentives. He warned reporters not to read too much into recruitment problems, saying, "recruiting, I don't think, is a measure of the strain on the Army."
Harvey acknowledged the challenges in meeting recruiting goals but focused instead on the positive news on the recruitment front.
For example, Army recruiters have now met their recruiting goals for seven straight months. In addition, the number of recruits who have signed an enlistment contract to date is almost 25 percent higher than it was at the same point last year.
The Army also points to the record number of current soldiers who are re-enlisting. Harvey cited the re-enlistment rates of the 3rd Infantry Division, which will soon wrap up its second rotation in Iraq. The unit reached 136 percent of its retention goal for last year.
The Army is on track to meet its re-enlistment rates this year in both the active duty and National Guard components -- only the Army Reserve is having a hard time as it has met 80 percent of its re-enlistment goal.
Congress also approved a referral program that's likely to prove popular with the troops. If you refer a potential recruit who actually joins the service, you'll get a $1,000 payment for the referral. Sensing how popular this program could become, Congress capped it at 1,000 referrals each for the Army, National Guard and Army Reserves.
Looking for a larger pool of available recruits, the Army will raise the maximum age for new recruits from 35 to 40. This raise in age matches a similar move by the Army Reserves last March.
An Army press release states the higher age limit should not be a problem for troop fitness because "experience has shown that older recruits who can meet the physical demands of military service generally make excellent soldiers based on their maturity, motivation, loyalty and patriotism."
Also, the Army will boost the amount of student loans it can repay to $65,000. This amount, when combined with the Montgomery GI Bill, will offer recruits up to $72,424 to pursue a higher education.