Many Take Army's 'Quick Ship' Bonus

John C. Davis III, 24, of East Baltimore is leaving for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., shortly after working out with Staff Sgt. Brian Grotz. The bonus prompted him to sign up quickly.
John C. Davis III, 24, of East Baltimore is leaving for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., shortly after working out with Staff Sgt. Brian Grotz. The bonus prompted him to sign up quickly. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007

More than 90 percent of the Army's new recruits since late July have accepted a $20,000 "quick ship" bonus to leave for basic combat training by the end of September, putting thousands of Americans into uniform almost immediately.

Many recruits who take the bonus -- scoring in many cases the equivalent of more than a year's pay -- leave their homes within days, recruiters said. The initiative is part of an effort by Army officials to meet year-end recruiting goals after a two-month slump earlier this year. With the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the Army hopes the extra cash motivates those interested in joining or entices those just considering enlisting.

The program began on July 25, and in three weeks the Army had enlisted 3,814 recruits using the bonus, according to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Ky. Those recruits accounted for 92 percent of the 4,149 recruits who signed contracts between July 25 and Aug. 13.

The $20,000 bonus is a hefty sum for many of the individuals the Army targets most aggressively: young men and women who have not settled on a career. The Army estimates that soldiers coming out of initial training are paid $17,400 a year on average.

But the effort, experts said, could pose problems for the Army in the coming months, because those who might have helped fill recruiting quotas later this year or in early 2008 are instead joining now.

Bethany Moore, 19, of Jessup, visited a recruiting station Wednesday, knowing that she wanted to sign up in the hopes of building a stable career. A 2006 graduate of Northern High School in Calvert County, Moore had worked a series of "regular jobs" and wanted to make a serious change. "I just wanted to do something better with my life," she said.

Although she expected a six-month waiting period to go to basic training, she learned of the bonus and immediately accepted. She will ship out within a week. "It was a welcome surprise," Moore said. "And it's a lot of money."

Military personnel experts said the signing bonuses are a transparent way for the Army to meet its annual goal of 80,000 recruits amid an increasingly difficult recruiting environment. They also said the rush to get people into uniform might have more to do with meeting numerical targets than with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, though many of those who join the Army face the possibility of deployment to combat soon.

The Army hopes the bonus will increase its recruiting numbers for August, a month whose goals are among the largest of the year. The Army will announce the August numbers in early September.

"The Army is intent on trying to meet its recruitment goals in terms of numbers by the end of the fiscal year, so they're doing just about anything they can to bring those numbers up," said Cindy Williams, an analyst at the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "To me it signals something that we've been seeing already from the Army, a trade-off in terms of quality and quantity. My sense is that right now, they're willing to take anybody who is willing to walk in the door and ship by Sept. 30."

Army officials have lowered standards and increased waivers in recent years to meet their recruiting goals, in part to deal with the strain of the wars and to quickly expand the Army. But the Army has been more concerned with nose-diving public opinion about the war in Iraq and the role of "influencers" -- parents, teachers and coaches -- who have been increasingly unwilling to recommend the military as a career option to young people.

The $20,000 bonus can be enticing, especially to those who lack a steady job, languish in debt or are worried about their future. Staff Sgt. Kevin Gordon, a recruiter in Glen Burnie, said a majority of the people who come into his office have already decided to join the service and then jump at the chance to leave now.


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