Air Force Now Offering Up to $50,000 Enlistment Bonuses for its Most Dangerous Jobs

A bomb suit display at Fairchild Air Force Base.
A bomb suit display rests in the corner of the training room at the 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal buidling at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Sept. 27, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lawrence Sena)

The Air Force announced Monday it is offering hefty bonuses -- some up to $50,000 -- for recruits to join the ranks and ship off to training quickly as the service faces lingering recruiting shortfalls from the pandemic.

Just four months ago, the head of Air Force recruiting raised the alarm in a letter about how the spread of COVID-19 caused serious headwinds, likening the declining number of airmen joining the service to decreased revenue in a business.

"Not two years into a pandemic, and we have warning lights flashing," Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, Air Force Recruiting Service commander, wrote in a memo that leaked in January. "If we were a company, we would still be in the black, we would still be making a profit, but our profit margins and our available capital, those numbers are trending down right now."

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To fill this void, the service is offering $8,000 for qualified recruits who can sign and ship off to training for certain careers "within five days or less," the service said in a press release.

In total, there are 16 career fields that are offering bonuses for enlistees.

Four-year contracts for career fields such as assembling and packaging ammunition, bomber aircraft maintainance and radio transmissions repair have bonuses ranging from $3,000 to nearly $10,000.

But most of the hefty bonuses will require a six-year contract and are for jobs with a lot of training or that are some of the most dangerous roles in the Air Force.

There is a $40,000 bonus available for a career as a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist -- which involves training airmen how to survive behind enemy lines -- and there are two $50,000 bonuses for special warfare operators and bomb technicians, two of the most dangerous jobs in the service.

"As we roll up our sleeves in the battle for talent, we've got to remain competitive as we go after our next generation of Airmen," Thomas said in the press release. "While we've got an unmatched value proposition, we also have a record-high level of competition for America's best and brightest."

A recent Rand Corp. study showed that, while the pandemic made it harder for the military services to recruit new personnel, the Army, Navy and Air Force all managed to increase the number of troops in their ranks in 2020 compared to the year before. And in 2021, the Air Force said it hit its recruiting targets for the first time in five years.

The increase was due, in part, to all three branches urging service members -- especially those in medical fields -- to delay retirements during the pandemic. They also welcomed back recently separated active-duty personnel.

But all the branches have recently announced new waves of bonuses to boost numbers.

The Army started offering up to $50,000 in January, though its website notes that a recruit would need to combine several bonuses on offer for "shipping out quickly, having in-demand skills or following certain career paths" to hit that top figure.

Just last week, the Navy announced that it was offering a $25,000 signing bonus to recruits for any rate as long as they are willing to ship off to boot camp before this summer.

-- Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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