Pentagon hopes to attract new sailors by paying off up to $65,000 in student loans
With enlistment bonuses as high as $50,000 apparently not enough to lure enough would-be sailors to join up, the US Navy is trying a new tactic by targeting Americans drowning in debt: offering to pay off their student loans.
Recruits who are willing to ship out by September 30 and meet other requirements will be eligible for as much as $65,000 in loan repayments, bringing their total bonus potential to $115,000, the Navy announced on Saturday. The offer applies to new sailors and to veterans who seek to return to service and who didn’t receive a bonus for their first enlistment.
“This is an opportunity without precedent” that could be “life-altering” for those burdened by student loans, said Navy Recruiting Command chief Rear Adm. Lex Walker. Nearly one in five US adults has student loan debt, averaging around $30,000. The country’s student borrowings total nearly $1.75 trillion.
The offer comes just six months after the Navy raised its maximum enlistment bonus to $50,000 from $40,000, citing a competitive labor market. That incentive apparently wasn’t enough to fill the personnel need, as all branches of the US military are reportedly struggling to meet their 2022 recruiting targets.
The Pentagon has estimated that only about 1% of 17- to 24-year-old Americans are both eligible and inclined to enter military service. About 77% of people in that age group are disqualified because of obesity, drug use or criminal records. Most of the remaining 23% have no interest in joining the military.
Even in active-duty ranks, more than 17% of US military personnel are considered obese, according to a 2019 Pentagon study. The Navy had the highest obesity rate among all branches, at 22%.
The latest incentives are designed to help the Navy meet its recruiting requirements for specific job roles needed “to ensure fleet readiness,” according to a Navy Recruiting Command memo released on Thursday. Bonus caps vary by specialty. For instance, recruits assigned to high-demand jobs in the nuclear field, such as specialized electronics technicians, can be eligible for the maximum bonus of $50,000. Air rescue swimmers can qualify for up to $38,000, while special warfare boat operators and hospital corpsmen can get $36,000.
Recruiters can be less picky at times of greater need. In April, for example, the Navy offered a $25,000 enlistment bonus for all recruits who were willing to ship out before summer.