Service members nearing the end of their first enlistment face many daunting questions: How can I sham my way through those last few months? How long will I grow my hair once I get out? Should I grow an operator beard or a Tony Stark-style goatee? And of course, they have to decide if they’ll even leave the military.
While many choose to make the military a career, sometimes folks need a little urging — a gentle reminder that their branch of service actually wants them to stay around. That’s where reenlistment incentives come in. While a cash bonus is always a welcome offer, they’re few and far between, so the services sometimes take a more frugal approach by offering service members their choice of duty station, a sought after billet, or even just the chance to do something cool, like reenlist as someone detonates a bunch of explosives behind them.
But it looks like the Army is taking the approach of “less is more” to the extreme by offering soldiers a ride in a helicopter that many soldiers already get to ride in on a regular basis.
At Camp Buehring, Kuwait, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division’s Sustainment Brigade celebrated their next hitch with a ride on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. In the ceremony held this weekend and initially posted to the military’s photo and video database, the ten soldiers stood on the flight line, raised their right hand, took their oath, and headed into the sky.
With its twin rotors and weighing in at 50,000 pounds, the Chinook has been a workhorse of the military, ferrying around platoons for almost 50 years, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. But a ride on a workhorse isn’t the most enticing reenlistment bonus, even if its top speed clocks in at almost 190 miles per hour. Add to it that the ubiquity of the Chinook makes this offer akin to a ride in a Humvee or a C-17 cargo plane, and that did not escape notice.
“As a reward for re-enlisting you get to sit in the very back of one of the darkest and bleakest helicopters you can ride in,” read one comment from the popular r/Army Reddit forum, where a photo of the reenlistment ceremony was shared Monday and quickly racked up nearly 200 comments.
“Imagine thinking a ride in a Chinook is a reward,” another user wrote.
Recruiting and retaining people is a constant challenge for the services, and one that is evolving as new missions arise and new generations become eligible for enlistment, and so the services sometimes get creative with their reenlistment offers. And despite what Marine Corps-related social media accounts have to say, a ride in a F/A-18 fighter jet is not one of them.
Across the military, there are roughly 1.3 million people serving on active duty. To maintain manpower levels, the services have to recruit and retain roughly 150,00 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and presumably, Guardians of the Space Force every year. In 2019, though, only a third of eligible youth met the requirements to enlist, whether due to a failure to meet height and weight requirements, mental health issues, prior criminal convictions, or lack of a high school degree. And for those considering reenlistment, there are constant considerations of another move or another deployment.
That’s to say nothing of the pull of the private sector, which may offer the prospect of higher pay and more consistent and reasonable work hours, all with the added benefit that no one is going to send you somewhere dangerous, or yell at you for not shaving your face every morning.
In response, the Army offers cash bonuses for certain fields: up to $50,000 for qualified aircraft maintainers or $40,000 for infantry squad leaders, for example. Other bonuses include the chance to attend a sought-after training course, like airborne school.
In 2021, the Army met its recruiting goals, with 496,490 soldiers on active duty. The branch has also been updating its reenlistment policies. Perks such as duty-station stabilization or short-term reenlistment extensions are being phased out, and in October the Army announced that it was shortening its “Reenlistment Opportunity Window” from 12 to 15 months.
Still, while the prospect of sitting down with a retention officer and serving another four years might make some people flee, it’s also made the colorful reenlistment ceremony a cherished tradition: Underwater, dressed up as an Imperial Stormtrooper, or going for a benign helicopter ride over Kuwait.
But one commenter perhaps speaking for everyone involved said, “Another 3-6 years of depression, anxiety, and nihilism all for a ride in a shitty Chinook? Sign me the fuck up.”
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