The military services of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force are an all-volunteer force. These individuals have volunteered their time, energy, and abilities to serve and protect the American public. Being an all-volunteer force comes at a price – the inability to fill every job needed for the military services.
The job market outside of the military, the civilian job market as it were, has seen great changes in the last decade. The minimum wage rising to double digits is just the beginning. The pandemic showed that many civilian jobs could be done remotely effectively, leading many Americans to continue their work at home with the easier commute and improved work-life balance. While the military is no longer supporting Operation Enduring Freedom overseas, the operational tempo of preparedness has not slowed in all branches of the military.
In the spring of 2022, the Air Force announced that they would be offering bonuses upwards of $50,000 to recruits who were open to going to training quickly. According to a press release, qualified recruits were offered bonuses with they would leave within five days or less.
In January of 2022, the Army announced that for the first time ever they would be offering enlistment bonuses of $50,000 to highly skilled individuals committing to six years. Until January of this year, the maximum bonus was $40,000. That’s still a sizable amount.
The Navy has now offered a bonus of $25,000 for those who will commit to leaving in a matter of weeks after their commitment.
Other offerings of retention bonuses are being offered to keep the U.S. military up to snuff. Major General Ed Thomas, the Air Force Recruiting Service commander, shared in an interview with Military.com that the military recognizes its competition in the civilian job force. “If you can work at Buc-ee’s along I-35 in Texas you can do it for $25-an-hour starting salary. You can start at Target for $29 an hour with educational benefits. So you start looking at the competition: Starbucks, Google, Amazon. The battle for talent amidst this current labor shortage is intense.”
According to Lisa Lawrence, a Pentagon spokesperson, the Department of Defense saw about 200,000 transitioning military members. According to the Air Force Times, about half the number of airmen enlisted in 2021 as compared to the previous year. The Army reported that they did not meet the recruiting goals by several thousand. This means that the number of individuals transitioning out of service in a year are not matching the number that are entering. There are less military members overall.
What does this mean for the military? Recruiting and retention bonuses are at an all-time high. The Air Force is dedicated $31 million to recruiting bonuses this year which is about double the planned budget. The Army has increased their enlistment bonus to $50,000 and offering a first duty station of choice – a surprising move for any military family who knows you are the mercy of the military as to where you live. The Air Force is offering up to $100,000 in reenlistment bonuses and the Navy is offering jobs like network cryptologist incentives to make pay around $90-$100,000.
It isn’t just money or job potential that is threatening the all-volunteer force. It is also the health of the recruitable group – the 17 to 24 year olds. Per the CDC, about 40% of that population is obese – a metric that deems them unable to join the military services as they would not meet the physical fitness standards. In addition, the pandemic has led to a division- those who vaccinate and those who do not. The military requires vaccination for COVID to remain in the military service, and certainly requires it for recruits. According to Senator Thom Tillis of the Senate Armed Services Committee, only 8% of the American population has even considered military service. With such a small group even considering, and the job market providing ample opportunities, will the military fill their ranks?