Despite the astounding success of America’s Special Operations Forces (SOF), decades of conflict and consecutive high-tempo deployments have taken their toll. Army SOF units are having trouble filling their ranks.
In an attempt to alleviate this conundrum, the U.S. Army is offering financial incentives to applicants willing to try out for SOF units. Although far from a novel strategy, the fact that it’s happening in SOF units suggests significant manpower shortages in America’s tip of the spear.
In a series of Facebook posts, the recruiting team of the 75th Ranger Regiment published the need to both recruit new warriors and retain old ones. “New initial enlistment bonuses of $10,000 are now available to qualified 11X candidates,” said the posts. “Didn’t receive an option 40 contract before you shipped to OSUT [One Station Unit Training]? Contact the 75th Ranger Regiment Recruiting Team to find out how you can become a part of one of the most elite organizations in the United States Army and qualify for the $10,000 initial enlistment bonus. Up to $46,000 in reenlistment bonuses are currently available to qualified applicants. Contact the 75th Ranger Regiment Recruiting Team to find out how you can qualify for our reenlistment bonuses.”
Interestingly, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, a Special Forces officer slated to become the next chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently that in 2019, operational units will be at 100 percent of their authorized strength, and at 105 percent in 2020.
There are two ways to reach 100 percent manpower: attract more candidates or lower the standards. By attracting more candidates with financial incentives, the SOF units increase the pool of potentially-successful soldiers. Although a reasonable way to solve the manpower shortage, financial incentives don’t guarantee success.
On the other hand, there’s also the option to lower the standards. On the face of it, it’s a cheaper solution–the Army would avoid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money that would go to enlistment bonuses. And, as the rationale goes, there wouldn’t be a serious impact on the units’ effectiveness since passing SOF selection is just the beginning and not the end. In units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, numerous soldiers who successfully complete the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP), are being Returned-to-Unit (RTU) because they fail to meet the rigorous standards of the Regiment. But this option requires significant time and effort from the officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in the battalions, distracting them from honing their warfighting skills. Additionally, it would compromise the reputation and credibility of the selection programs, thereby hurting morale and confidence in their leadership.