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Indefinite re-enlistment signifies definite career

Mideast edition, Saturday, June 2, 2007

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq — Staff Sgt. Derek Brown calls it “indef,†shorthand for re-enlisting in the U.S. Army on an indefinite basis.

Yet real, most definite numbers started turning recently as soon as Brown signed his new contract with the Army and took his re-enlistment oath at the headquarters of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in Ramadi.

For starters, Brown added another 12 years of military service to his 13 years already served. Then for every promotion he gets in the future, he must give the Army two more years. He wants to retire as a sergeant major, the top enlisted rank, so that would mean another six years added to the tally.

Finally, there is something in it for Brown, 33, of Williamston, N.C.

The Army is giving the wheel mechanic $3,125 in the form of a one-time signing bonus in exchange for as many as 18 more years of work.

“I’m here for the long haul, and I love it,†Brown said to Col. John Charlton, the brigade’s commander, and a group of friends who gathered for the ceremony.

This “indefinite†signing allows soldiers who are E6s — staff sergeants like Brown — with at least 10 years’ experience to sign on many years to max out their career.

But the financial reward pales in comparison to those given to new enlistments and to those soldiers and officers with skills that are in short supply. Under new guidelines, the Army now offers up to $25,000 for three-year enlistments, and $6,000 to $15,000 for some soldiers who signed up for as few as two years.

Previously, the maximum bonus limit for a three-year enlistment was $10,000 for most Army jobs, with a $20,000 ceiling for a few very high-demand, undermanned positions, according to Julia Bobick, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

Market demands affect the Army like any other group, and the need for certain skills such as nurse anesthetist raises the investment the military makes to keep those soldiers and officers. Wheel mechanics, by contrast, seem to be in steady supply.

An indefinite re-enlistment signing bonus will vary depending on the soldier’s prior length of service and his expected retirement. For example, Brown took a break in his service, so he has to serve at least 22 total years to qualify for full retirement benefits.

Brown could have signed a more standard contract with fewer years, as many soldiers do. Yet to him, the contract he signed only puts on paper what he has intended all along.

Long ago, he told himself he’d use the Army to develop a career, and he plans to open his own automotive garage when he retires. The staff sergeant also has sons, 6 and 9, and he’s staying for them, “so they don’t have to come in and do the same thing I did.â€

And two decades ago, he made a promise to his grandfather, an infantry veteran of World War II.

“I made a promise to my grandfather 20 years ago, and I’m doing it,†Brown said with both fists held up in the hot Iraqi air.

He’s also spending the money. He plans to take a cruise next month when he takes leave from his deployment in Ramadi, his second tour in the war.

“It’s a job,†Brown said of the career behind and ahead of him. “Nothing but to do it.â€

And if all goes as planned, in 2025, after 31 years of service in the Army, he’ll retire.

But even that isn’t guaranteed, Brown knows. According to current regulations, when it comes time for Brown and others like him to end their careers, they will first have to ask permission from the Army before they can retire.


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