Army's BEAR program aims to fill understaffed specialties
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army has made changes to the bonuses for enlisted soldiers who are considering switching jobs and entering one of the Army’s critically short career fields, according to changes in the Bonus Extension and Retraining program.
Soldiers who qualify to enter the program, better known as BEAR, can extend their re-enlistment while they attend school to learn one of 21 designated “shortage” jobs, such as Special Forces medic or Arabic language interrogators.
Once their schooling is finished, BEAR members re-enlist and are given a Selective Re-enlistment Bonus lump-sum payment — from $10,000 to as much as $40,000.
The BEAR program is unique because it “is the only way a soldier can get money for changing their MOS,” or military occupational specialty, according to Sgt. Maj. James Bragg, the Army’s Re-enlistment Management bureau chief.
The Army is currently offering Selective Re-enlistment Bonuses for 126 out of about 188 MOSs.
But while soldiers always are allowed to try to switch from one MOS into another when they re-enlist, unless they are qualified to perform the new job, they can’t earn a Selective Re-enlistment Bonus, Bragg said Monday.
The BEAR program, however, lets soldiers retrain under their current contract, then re-enter the Army as if they had been working in the shortage MOS all along, Bragg said.
On Feb. 7, BEAR program managers issued an updated list of eligible MOSs and the “multipliers” are used to compute bonuses.
Multipliers are associated with the length of time a soldier in each of the three ranks — specialists (E-4s), sergeants (E-5), and staff sergeants (E-6) — has served, which falls into one of three “zones,” A, B and C.
The number next to the A, B or C is the multiplier, which, with the duration of the re-enlistment, is part of the calculation of bonus.
Effective Feb. 7, a total of 22 multipliers have increased since the BEAR was last updated in June 2005, according to the updated list.
And one MOS — 19D, cavalry scout — was added to the list.
But multipliers in two of the BEAR list’s MOS categories – 21U, topographical analyst, and 88M, motor transport operator — will be decreased as of March 9, Bragg said.
Program managers are giving the decreases extra time to take effect “in case there are any fence-sitters out there” who are thinking about switching to those jobs but have been waiting to commit to the program, Bragg said.
In fiscal 2005, more than 1,000 soldiers joined BEAR, Bragg said.
In fiscal 2006, which began Oct. 1, so far there are 525 BEAR members, “so we are on track with last year,” Bragg said.
In order to partake in BEAR, soldiers have to qualify for the MOS they have selected, and be within 24 months of their estimated termination of service date.
And not every rank is eligible for a bonus in every BEAR job. For example, 91W, health care specialist, is open only to specialists who are not promotable.
Finally, soldiers who are already working in a shortage MOS are not allowed to join the BEAR program — with a single, new exception: Soldiers whose enlistments are scheduled to end in fiscal 2006 (on or before Sept. 30) can enter BEAR no matter what their MOS may be, Bragg said.
Deployed soldiers who are stop-lossed are eligible to join BEAR as soon as their stop loss runs its course, as long as there is a training seat available in the school associated with their desired MOS, according to Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Nagle, the Army’s re-enlistment Training program manager.
Nagle recommended that stop-lossed soldiers who are interested in BEAR visit their deployed battalion or brigade career counselors as soon as possible to determine eligibility for the program.
Other soldiers should also see their career counselors to find out whether they qualify for BEAR and how much money their Selective Re-enlistment Bonus might be worth.