The Defense Department quietly asked Congress on Monday to raise the maximum age
for military recruits to 42 for all branches of the service.
Under current law, the maximum age to enlist in the active components is 35, while
people up to age 39 may enlist in the reserves. By practice, the accepted age
for recruits is 27 for the Air Force, 28 for the Marine Corps and 34 for the Navy
and Army, although the Army Reserve and Navy Reserve sometimes take people up
to age 39 in some specialties.
The Pentagon’s request to raise the maximum recruit age to 42 is part
of what defense officials are calling a package of “urgent wartime support
initiatives” sent to Congress Monday night prior to a Tuesday hearing
of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee.
At that hearing, David S.C. Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and
readiness, said he felt the military’s recent problems with recruiting
were improving, but that additional incentives would help.
Chu mentioned the age change in passing during the hearing but gave no other
details, such as whether any of the services were seriously considering recruiting
Most of the initiatives in the package were previously requested by the Bush
administration as part of the 2006 defense budget, which is pending before Congress.
They include raising the maximum re-enlistment bonus to $90,000; maximum hardship
duty pay to $750 a month; special pay and incentive bonuses for nuclear qualified
officers to $30,000; assignment incentive pay to $3,000; and increasing accession
and affiliation bonuses for reservists.
The request, not yet approved by the White House, also asks lawmakers to revise
some benefits proposals already before Congress.
For example, the Bush administration originally asked Congress to increase
enlistment bonuses to $30,000, but the Pentagon now wants bonuses of up to $40,000.
The administration also asked for an Army-only test of a $1,000 referral bonus
that would be paid to current soldiers if they get someone to enter the Army
and make it through basic and advanced training. Now, the Pentagon wants that
payment to be $2,500.
The request also includes a new Army initiative that officials are calling
the Army Home Ownership program. It would set aside money for new recruits that
could be used to buy a home at the end of an enlistment, an idea that Army officials
believe will help convince parents and other “adult influencers”
of service-age youths about the benefits of joining the military.
Lawmakers are sympathetic to the need to do more. Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y.,
said he is willing to look at new pay-and-benefits initiatives, although he
personally believes that what the Pentagon needs is an increase in personnel
to cut the workload on active and reserve service member.
Rep. Vic Snyder of Arkansas, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, also
vowed to help.
“Recruitment is a challenge right now,” Snyder said. “Both
the military and Congress are working on solutions, but I expect these challenges
will be with us for some time. Military service is honorable and can be a real
growing opportunity for a young man or woman