YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A combination of enticing bonuses and soldiers pleased by real-world missions has driven Army retention rates beyond goals, South Korea’s top retention soldier said Wednesday.
Major subordinate commands (MSCs) throughout the Army in South Korea either met or exceeded retention goals for the third quarter of fiscal 2004, said Sgt. Maj. Robert Shields, theater retention director. It’s the first time in two or three years that all MSCs have accomplished that, he said.
“There are a lot of incentives this fiscal year that probably increased our rates,” Shields said. “When soldiers are faced with a real-world mission, the retention rates increase.”
Being able to perform the duties they’ve been trained for increases soldiers’ job satisfaction, he said. “Time will tell whether that will hold up.”
For South Korea, the Army set a goal of 403 soldiers to re-enlist. As of June 29, 483 soldiers have re-enlisted, exceeding the goal by about 20 percent.
Some stateside Army posts — such as Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Fort Riley, Kan. — have seen re-enlistments drop, according to a June 14 story in the Rocky Mountain News. The drop was attributed to soldiers leaving the Army after combat tours in Iraq, the paper reported.
Not so in South Korea, where the Army has instituted lucrative bonus programs that show tangible results, Shields said. He said different factors in different places affect how many soldiers may re-enlist.
Soldiers here — including those from the 2nd Infantry Division going to Iraq by summer’s end — seem motivated and excited, Shields said.
“We are doing quite well,” he said. “We don’t have some of the problems that Fort Carson has or maybe what they are alluding to in the article.”
Soldiers going to Iraq have had their end-of-service dates extended. But soldiers entering their re-enlistment window while in Iraq can be eligible for a tax-free bonus, Shields said. “That’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s an incentive for those soldiers.”
In February, the Army started a Targeted Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program for certain job specialties in South Korea. Soldiers who re-enlist under TSRB can take a payment of 50 percent of their bonus with the rest over the the term of their enlistment, or as a lump sum.
Over the last few months, a few of the TSRB bonuses have been reduced as the Army has been able to fulfill its goals, a normal measure, but no jobs have been cut from the program so far, Shields said.
Since Feb. 13, 192 soldiers have re-enlisted and received one of the bonus options, officials said.
Also continuing is Assignment Incentive Pay, which pays $300 extra a month to soldiers who agree to extend their tour by 12 months. The Army has approved about 7,700 AIP applications through the middle of June, 8th Army officials have said.
However, a soldier can’t draw AIP and the TSRB consecutively, Shields said.
AIP also helps re-enlistment because some soldiers need to meet a time-in-service requirement to be eligible, he said. Also continuing is the long-running Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program, which gives soldiers four options for extending their tour in South Korea for 12 months.
The incentive includes one of the following: a free round-trip air ticket to the servicemember’s home of record; 30 days of free vacation (non-chargeable leave); free round-trip air ticket to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle and 15 days of free, or non-chargeable, vacation; a $2,000 bonus received on the first month of the extension; or $80 a month in extra pay.
Soldiers can get a re-enlistment bonus plus OTEIP, but they can’t draw it with AIP, Shields said. Every job specialty is eligible for OTEIP unlike places like Germany, Shields said. Soldiers can compare and see which is the better financial deal, Shields said.
“Between leadership, the bonuses, the AIP — I think it’s had a very strong impact on our retention rates,” Shields said.