By Staff Sgt. Peter Ford, MND-B PAOMarch 8, 2009
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - At a time where our economy back home is ailing, the Army is having unprecedented success at retaining its Soldiers; especially in view of the new, flexible GI Bill and the job security that military service holds.
That success has ushered in changes to how the Army conducts its retention business for the rest of this fiscal year. The booming flow of bonus money many Soldiers have come to expect may begin to trickle.
"Currently, the Department of the Army is reviewing a myriad of changes in the retention program, one being the bonus," said Sgt. Maj. Garrett Luplow, of the 1st Cavalry Division retention office.
The Army uses retention bonuses as incentives used to help keep the force strong, explained Sgt. 1st Class Donna Schwann, an Army Reserve career counselor. The same reasons that drive Soldiers to re-enlist also drive changes in the retention process.
When the number of personnel in the Army gets too low, bonuses are reconsidered and published two times per year. Conversely, when Army retention personnel meet or exceed strength quotas, so does the cash.
"A projected change for the active Army program is a decrease in the number of military occupational skills on the list for bonuses," said Luplow. "However, in some of the most critical MOSs there will be an increase in the amount of money being paid."
"The last day for Reservists to re-enlist under the current bonus was March 5, 2009," said Schwann. "Once the new list is published, those bonuses from the new list will be used."
The robust bonus payment system used in the current retention program has also made an enormous impact on changes in the retention process.
"The bonus has been the deciding factor for many to re-enlist while the economy was strong," said Ludlow. "Soldiers are now re-enlisting regardless of the bonus because of the weak economy. The active Army component is doing very well in retention."
"The last time I checked stats Feb. 27, the active Army had already completed 61 percent of its annual retention mission," Luplow added.
The Army's annual retention goal for fiscal 2009 was set at 65,500. According to Luplow, the Army has already reenlisted over 40,000 Soldiers in just the last five months.
Soldiers who are thinking about re-enlisting should make prompt decisions about their careers in the military.
"Because the Army is ahead of its retention goal, expect restrictions," said Ludlow. "One of the restrictions is the implementation of the 90-day window."
The 90-day window means if any Soldier gets within 90 days of their current reenlistment, they will not be able to re-enlist without an exception to policy letter.
"Soldiers should know their end time service date 24 months prior to reenlistment," said Luplow. "If a Soldier does not take action before those 90 days, the Department of the Army retention figures the Soldier probably does not want to re-enlist."
"We are keeping more Soldiers than expected," said Luplow. "This could possibly be the last deployment here for the 1st Cavalry Division, which can be a huge factor in the decision of many Soldiers who want to re-enlist."
One of the biggest things Luplow hears from Soldiers is they love the Army, they love what they are doing for their country, but their biggest problem is the strain multiple deployments are putting on their families.
Soldiers who re-enlist said they enjoy receiving bonuses but that the bonuses are not the only reason they re-enlist.
"The re-enlistment bonus is a plus," said Staff Sgt. Lalance Richardson. "I love my job, I love the job security and I love to travel."
"I think the retention bonuses that the Army has offered us are great but I am grateful for the Army, because it has provided me an opportunity to advance personally and professionally," said Staff Sgt. Darryl McNealy, a native of Madisonville, Fla., an air traffic controller with Alpha Company, Division Support Troop Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division.
According to Luplow, the retention program is not just a tool to keep Soldiers in the Army; it is used to aid Soldiers in career progression.
"For example, if a military occupational skill is being phased out and the MOS is over-strength, the Soldier should see their unit career counselor to steer him down the right path to a successful, rewarding career," said Ludlow.
"The new version of the GI Bill is also expected to come out soon," added Luplow. "The new GI Bill will allow Soldiers to transfer part of it to their dependents; where before, only a portion could be transferred and a portion of your bonus would be taken away if you were to transfer it to a family member," he said.
New changes in retention are expected by June 2009. Soldiers looking to stay Army should adapt to these expected changes.
The bonuses Soldiers may be shooting for might be well out of reach or have new restrictions placed on them. Luplow recommends that Soldiers should take a proactive approach to their military careers and not procrastinate with reenlistment, negating the effects of a 90-day window.