Attrition: Well Spent Cash For Keeping Captains


April 20,2008: The U.S. Army has, for a second year in a row, offered cash bonuses to captains who agree to stay in for three more years. The amounts offered ($25,000-35,000) vary according to branch, with air defense, engineer, finance, quartermaster, signal corps, nurses and medical administration officers getting the lower amounts, and those in aviation, field artillery, infantry, military intelligence, transportation, and health services getting the most. Those in the middle ($30,000) are adjutant general, armor, chemical, military police and ordnance captains.

When the program was first offered last year, 67 percent of the 18,000 eligible captains took the offer. But the army was hoping 85 percent would go for it. The biggest complaint right now is the amount of time spent in a combat zone, away from the family. Most captains are not actually in combat, it's the separation from family that is most annoying. Captains in command of combat units are most likely to stay in, as long as they are in command. That is usually not the case, with most captains being in non-command jobs. This is annoying as well.

At the moment, the army is short 3,700 captains. Captains comprise the single largest rank in the army (28 percent of the 85,000 army officers are captains). These officers generally have been in service 3-10 years, which is not so long that they can't easily switch to another career. Moreover, the current generation of officers expect to have many careers, so they see it as quite normal to stay in the army for 5-10 years, then move on to another career. The army, however, cannot go hire captains from somewhere else, the same way a company might replace a mid-level manager by just placing a want ad. The army has to recruit, train and "grow" its own captains. This takes 4-5 years (training and time served in lower ranks). Thus it pays to offer large bonuses to encourage captains to stick around.


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