Army to Offer Bonuses to Keep Captains The U.S. Army is losing captains at a brisk rate. Repeated deployments to Iraq are causing many of these junior officers to leave the military for civilian careers. In an unprecedented move, the Army will soon offer substantial bonuses to entice captains to stay on. But is the extra money enough?
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Army to Offer Bonuses to Keep Captains

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Army to Offer Bonuses to Keep Captains

Army to Offer Bonuses to Keep Captains

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Vice President Dick Cheney spent last night at a U.S. military base not far from Saddam Hussein's hometown. He was near Tikrit, part of a visit intended to pressure Iraqis to make political progress. The vice president told soldiers stationed at that base that the U.S. appreciates what he termed the extra burden you carry.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Many troops are in Iraq for the second or third time. Some are facing extended deployments. It's the same situation that led many U.S. Army captains to start quitting during the Vietnam War. Those captains - company commanders - are critical to the Army's performance.

As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the Army is preparing some hefty bonuses to entice captains to stay on active duty.

TOM BOWMAN: Captain Carl Chaker is a 27-year-old West Point graduate, with two tours in Iraq under his belt. When Chaker and many of his fellow captains talk about their futures, they see only more time in Iraq.

Captain CARL CHAKER (U.S. Army): A large percentage of them have decided to get out. It's mostly the repeated plans. They said, at the end of six years, they will have spent half of their careers in Iraq. I think a lot of them feel like they're behind in creating a life at home.

BOWMAN: Chaker is among those getting out. He's preparing for law school and is finishing up his final weeks in the Army.

Lieutenant General TED STROUP (U.S. Army, Retired): We have a new phenomenon.

BOWMAN: Retired Lieutenant General Ted Stroup was head of Army personnel during the first Persian Gulf War.

Lt. Gen. STROUP: Captains departing at a rate of about 25 percent. I believe there's concern at the senior leader level. They believe they've got to do something about it.

BOWMAN: Colonel Paul Aswell, who tracks officer retention for the Army, says only about 13 percent of captains are leaving. Still, that's an increase from 11 percent in the mid-1990s. To make matters worse, the Army captains are getting out in greater numbers at a time when even more junior officers are needed. Aswell says with the Army increasing in size in the coming years by tens of thousands of troops, it will need 6,000 more captains and majors.

Colonel PAUL ASWELL (U.S. Army): So I have to keep those young officers, those extra ones, in, if I'm trying to build 6,000 more.

BOWMAN: What is clear is that combat-tested officers like Chaker are hard to replace.

Mr. LARRY KORB (Former Pentagon Official): Well, I think it's a very big deal.

BOWMAN: Larry Korb was a Pentagon personnel official in the Reagan administration.

Mr. KORB: Today's captains are your future leaders in the Army, the ones who have the most battlefield experience. And you're going to need them to be able to fight future wars.

BOWMAN: So the Army is coming up with an unprecedented plan - $20,000 bonuses to get captains to remain on active duty for a few more years. They are also dangling offers of graduate school and allowing captains to choose where they are stationed. General Stroup calls the bonuses a good tool to help keep junior officers. Captain Chaker and his comrades aren't so sure.

Capt. CHAKER: Money isn't really what they're concerned with right now.

BOWMAN: He says captains make about $60,000-a-year. And with tax breaks from being deployed overseas, many stack away tens of thousands of dollars. A $20,000 bonus like the Army is offering, Chaker and others say, can quickly be made up with a higher-paying civilian job with no strings attached.

Mr. MARC HERDEGAN (U.S. Army, Retired): I don't think it would, personally.

BOWMAN: Mark Herdegan is another captain who left the Army in 2005, following two combat tours in Iraq. He's now finishing up at Harvard Business School.

Mr. HERDEGAN: I think that most people are not financially motivated when it comes to their service in the military.

BOWMAN: It's all about making a contribution to the country. Herdegan is also a West Point graduate. He admits he had mixed feelings about making the Army a career. That is, until he faced those long deployments.

Mr. HERDEGAN: The deployments changed that for may be what might have been a very difficult decision to an easier one. If you're kind of sitting on the fence, the long deployments and the kind of the promise of back-to-back deployments for many years, those changed people's minds.

BOWMAN: Colonel Aswell says the money is just one part of the menu of enticements the Army is offering.

Col. ASWELL: And to try to have that officer who's on the fence to have that one choice that he's got, would it just be enough to push him over.

BOWMAN: But there is another fact that may push the junior officer in the other direction. The Pentagon just increased the Army's yearlong combat tour by three months.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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