Retention Desperation: Marines Offer $30,000 Re-Enlistment Bonuses

Los Angeles Times

Marines Offered Reenlistment Bonuses

Personnel with combat experience and training can get up to $30,000. The goal is for them to keep current jobs or shift to other vital posts.

By Tony Perry
Times Staff Writer
November 26, 2004

CAMP PENDLETON, California — With the prospect of continued fighting in Iraq, the Marine Corps is offering bonuses of up to $30,000 — in some cases tax-free — to persuade enlisted personnel with combat experience and training to reenlist.

The plan is working, officials said. Less than two months into the fiscal year, Marine reenlistment rates in several key specialties are running 10% to 30% ahead of last year.

For example, officials are confident that by midyear, they will have reached their target for encouraging reenlistment among riflemen, the “grunts” who are key to the Marines’ ability to mount offensives against insurgent strongholds such as Fallouja.

In most cases, young Marines are agreeing to stay in their current jobs for four years. In others, they are allowed to transfer into jobs considered equally vital: recruiters, embassy guards and boot camp drill instructors.

“No amount of money is too much to retain combat experience in the corps, rather than starting over,” said Maj. Mark Menotti, assistant head of enlisted retention for the Marine Corps.

Giving bonuses to encourage Marines to reenlist is not new. But this year’s bonus schedule marks the first time that “combat arms” specialties have received the largest bonuses. A year ago, the top bonus for a grunt was about $7,000.

Along with riflemen, machine gunners and mortar men, specialties also receiving sizable bonuses are those critical to success in Iraq — including intelligence officers and Arabic linguists.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Jee, 21, of Borrego Springs, Calif., received a bonus of $19,000 to reenlist for four years. An assault man with expertise in firing the Javelin rocket, he planned to shift to the intelligence field.

“They need a grunt’s view of what kind of intelligence you need when you’re out there on the street,” Jee said at Camp Pendleton, where he recently returned after seven months in Iraq.

Sgt. Joey W. McBroom, 30, of Lafayette, Tenn., a rifleman, said he had planned to reenlist even without the bonus, but the $28,039 “helped my wife to agree to my reenlisting.”

In an e-mail from Iraq, McBroom said he planned to put 40% of the bonus in a mutual fund, 30% in an account for his children’s college educations, 15% in savings and the remainder for “a nice wedding ring for the wife, finally.”

Another rifleman, Cpl. Anthony Mazzola, 23, of Fort Worth, has more immediate plans for his $21,700. “I plan to take all of my money to Vegas and have a crazy weekend,” he e-mailed from Iraq.

The Marine Corps has earmarked $52 million in bonuses for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, up $1 million from the prior year.

Two-thirds of the bonus money will go for Marines reenlisting for a second hitch. One-third will go to enlistees signing up for a third or fourth tour. Officers — except in particularly difficult-to-retain specialties such as aviation and law — are not eligible.

The amount of the bonus is determined by a formula involving the length of reenlistment, how early the Marine makes the commitment and a multiplier determined by the commandant of the Marine Corps. Among other things, the multiplier involves a statistical analysis of how much money will be needed to ensure that enough Marines reenlist in a particular specialty.

Take, for example, a sergeant trained in tank warfare.

If the sergeant reenlists for four years, his bonus is determined by multiplying his monthly pay — $1,817 — by four. That figure then is multiplied by four, a rate set by Marine officials for his skill. The highest skill multiplier is five. For the sergeant, the bonus computes to $29,072. If he reenlists while in Iraq, his bonus, like his regular pay, is tax-exempt.

For grunts, the bonuses are also a sign of recognition.

Cpl. Steven Forrester, 22, a machine gunner from Centerville, Tenn., said he was “glad they finally realized our job is dangerous.” He received $22,796.

Cpl. William Stoffers, 22, a machine gunner from Redding, said the size of the bonus for his specialty was a pleasant surprise:

“I think it’s fitting to have this amount because we are put through more stressful things than a normal Marine,” e-mailed Stoffers, who is in Iraq; his total was $21,000.

Among combat veterans, there is a sense that they are being paid for having learned things that cannot be taught at the school of infantry. Many are eager to pass that knowledge to others.

Cpl. William Jones, 22, of Tulsa, Okla., a rifleman, received a bonus of $19,000 and now wants to teach Navy corpsmen how to handle combat. “The more Marines we have who’ve been over there, the better off the corps is going to be,” he said. “It’s going to cost money, but it will save lives.”

Sgt. Deverson Lochard, 23, from Lakeville, Mass., a machine gunner who received a bonus of $23,000, wants to become a drill instructor and, after he becomes a U.S. citizen, an officer.

Like Jones and Jee, Lochard, who was born in France, was in combat at Ramadi and is now back at Camp Pendleton.

“I want to teach junior Marines how to go into combat and come back alive.”

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