DOD lobbies Congress for money to encourage enlistment
WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials lobbied Tuesday for higher hazardous duty pay and larger enlistment bonuses on Capitol Hill as senators expressed concerns over the long-term implications of recent recruiting problems.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this is heading,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel subcommittee.
“The reason you’re having problems recruiting is because people are doing a dangerous duty.”
Recruiters from the Army, Army Reserve and Marines have missed their new enlistment goals for the past two months, but representatives from the forces told the Senate they are still optimistic about reaching their end strength goals for the year.
Retention among those services remains at or above goals.
Army Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenback, deputy chief of staff for personnel, said the main obstacle for recruiting has been parents and “adult influencers” concerned over military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said officials need to reclaim the perception of the military service as a noble and important career.
Graham said he expects at least 100,000 troops to be still in Iraq two years from now, which will only aggravate those problems.
“Let’s deal with the reality of fact that the war has taken its toll on the recruiting process, and I think eventually will take its toll on our retention process,” he said.
David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said department officials trying to solve the recruitment problems would like to see hardship duty pay-location raised from a maximum of $300 to $1,000 and the maximum enlistment bonus for certain critical skill sets raised to $90,000.
He also proposed expanding critical skills retention bonuses for reserve personnel, to respond to their growing role and importance in the war on terror.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said military officials also need to focus on quality-of-life issues to ensure military families are reasonably comfortable during troops’ deployment, including solving ongoing pay system problems.
An August 2004 study by the Government Accountability Office showed that 95 percent of soldiers in Iraq experienced at least one problem with their paycheck, and a January report by the office showed many Army reservists failed to get timely reimbursement of travel expenses.
Chu blamed many of those problems on the “antiquated nature of our pay systems” and said officials are working to upgrade those processes.