Fighting for talent, Air Force, Navy offer thousands in enlistment incentives

Squeezed between a shrinking number of eligible recruits and growing competition from civilian employers, the Air Force and the Navy are offering new recruits thousands in new incentives to boost enlistment numbers.

Zeroing in on a few key jobs, the Air Force added six skills to its fiscal year 2022 Initial Enlistment Bonus program Monday for four or six-year contracts in certain “hard-to-fill job specialties.”

Air Force bonuses can range from $3,000 to $50,000, depending on the career field and other conditions.

Recruits ready to get going this spring and summer may be eligible for an additional incentive called “Quick Ship,” offered from Monday to Sept. 30, 2022.

And the Navy Recruiting Command is offering its own enlistment bonus of $25,000 to anyone who enlists for active-duty service. The Navy said it is the only U.S. military branch offering that high of a bonus. Depending on an enlistee’s rating or career field, the enlistment bonus could be as high as $50,000.

“As we roll up our sleeves in the battle for talent, we’ve got to remain competitive as we go after our next generation of Airmen,” Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, Air Force Recruiting Service commander, said in a statement. “While we’ve got an unmatched value proposition, we also have a record-high level of competition for America’s best and brightest.”

At the end of the fiscal year last year, in October 2021, for the first time in five years, all three components of the Air Force’s “total force” — active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve — achieved both recruiting and end strength goals, Thomas said at the time.

Any member who enters Air Force active duty with any career field in a “Quick-Ship” status may be eligible to receive an $8,000 bonus, the Air Force said. That bonus applies when an already fully qualified applicant fills a short-notice basic military training vacancy, shipping out in five days or less.

And some Air Force cyber career fields have bonus amounts that are based on the member’s highest level of certification, giving the applicant a shot at up to $20,000.

Special warfare recruits are already eligible for up to $50,000 upon entering active duty, the Air Force said.

These kinds of incentives are needed, said Loren Thompson, the Virginia-based chief operating officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and chief executive of Source Associates.

“As long as we have a volunteer military, as long as we have an all-volunteer force, the military will have to compete in the same job market that private companies do,” Thompson said Tuesday. “If it doesn’t offer benefits as good as and better than private companies, it won’t be able to get the talent it needs.”

Another Navy incentive announced this week: Former service members, either from the Navy or from other services, re-enlisting into active-duty status in the pay grade E-4 or below, and who meet bonus eligibility and have not received a bonus in their first enlistment, could also qualify for the $25,000 bonus.

Eligible Air Force job and bonus amounts can be found here.

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