“We’re in a competitive market,” said Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of Army Recruiting Command. “How we incentivize is absolutely essential, and that is absolutely something that we know that is important to trying to get somebody to come and join the military.′

The U.S. Army, for the first time, is offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to highly skilled recruits who join for six years, The Associated Press has learned, as the service struggles to lure soldiers into certain critical jobs amid the continuing pandemic.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of Army Recruiting Command, told AP that shuttered schools and the competitive job market over the past year have posed significant challenges for recruiters. So heading into the most difficult months of the year for recruiting, the Army is hoping that some extra cash and a few other changes will entice qualified young people to sign up.

“We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down,” said Vereen. “We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn’t have contact with, face-to-face.”

Two years of the pandemic has made it more difficult to recruit in schools and at public events, and the competition for quality workers has intensified as young people weigh their options.

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