Despite coronavirus recruiting deficit, Army says it will hit end strength goal

After two months of limited recruiting due to coronavirus, the Army is lagging behind its goal by about 4,000 new soldiers.

That 4,000 soldier deficit came in April and May when the Army saw a dip of about 2,000 new enlistments per month.

However, Army Recruiting Command leader Maj. Gen. Frank Muth thinks the service will still meet its end strength goal of 485,000 for 2020.

The current economic landscape and the need for job security are what is keeping the Army confident that it will meet the benchmark, Muth said Tuesday during an Association of the United States Army webinar.

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“End strength is very strong,” Muth said. “The interest of soldiers to continue to serve another year or two is very strong. Ultimately, that can lead to them reenlisting because remember end strength is a both the combination of reenlistment, retention and also recruiting.”

The Army created a short-term reenlistment extension for soldiers who were planning to leave the Army and wanted to stay in after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“With the onset of COVID-19, some of our soldiers have now been faced with the reality that some opportunities are no longer available to them,” Sgt. Maj. Stuart C. Morgan, the Army’s senior career counselor, told Federal News Network. “We have an employment gap. We have multiple reenlistment options that can offer the soldier a new assignment or some type of training and also stabilization options.”

The Army’s retention is at 52,700 Soldiers, well above the 50,200 soldiers previously expected to continue serving, E. Casey Wardinsky, the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said last week.

Even before the onset of COVID-19, the force was ahead of schedule by more than 900 soldiers.

“We’ve done about 2,000 short-term extensions to keep people on the force three to 11 months,” he added. “So that’s a very small share of the overall retention.”

Muth said the numbers he is seeing now that recruiting is opening back up are what make him most confident that the Army will meet its goals, though.

The Army is starting a virtual hiring “day” from June 30 to July 2. Through that effort, sign up 10,000 new recruits. That doesn’t equal 10,000 new contracts though.

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The Army is also offering bonuses to bring in recruits to meet its goal. Sign-on bonuses go up to $40,000 and the possibility of $65,000 in student loan payment. Other bonuses include $500 to $2,000 based on certain criteria like test scores. Also, certain high-demand jobs in the Army get extra bonuses.

Overall, Muth said he expects the Army will need between 63,000 and 66,000 new recruits this year.

“As soon as we hit end strength and the secretary says, ‘Okay, that’s where I want to be’ That’s it,” Muth said. “If it hits 485,000 and we’ve already assessed 63,000, we’re not going to go to 66,000 or 65,000 or 64,000. We’ll take those extra contracts and push them into the new year. We call that the debt pool, because that helps start the engine for the next year. We don’t want to exceed end strength at the end of the day because it’s a bill and we have to pay for it.”