If there is any group of men and women who have deserved bonuses over the last seven years, it has been the Soldiers who have served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And during that time, particularly in specialties that the Army puts a high value on, reenlistments bonuses have been generous, yet as the year draws to a close, the Army has announced that there will be cuts starting on Dec. 31. 2008.
The Army reduced the number jobs qualifying for a bonus from 88 to about 63, according to Master Sgt. Patrick Johnson, in an interview with Stars and Stripes newspaper. The decision also means that the total amount of bonuses that all Soldiers receive will be reduced as well.
Army officials say there is no connection between the move to slash bonuses and the global recession.
"We're trying to ramp down from the highs that we had in '05 and '06," Lt. Col. Thomas Erickson told Stars and Stripes. "It's an unpleasant subject when you're talking about what you've taken off, and really, at the end of the day, what really is driving the train is we have to live within our budget."
While this is certainly not welcome news for the Soldiers, there are still numerous benefits that Soldiers can look forward to when they stay in the Army. And one of the biggest bonuses for Soldiers is increased support and education opportunities for both Soldiers and Army spouses.
Last year Army leaders signed the Army Family Covenant as part of an effort to help support Army families and Army spouses as the Army dealt with the strain of long and frequent deployments. The Covenant aimed, in part, to address the education obstacles that Army spouses faced. In that vein, efforts have been made to help military spouse have more access to education and career opportunities.
Soldiers who stay in the Army also retain their eligibility for Army Tuition Assistance, which provides Soldiers with $4,500 a year in education funds that they can use to study at the school of their choice. Soldiers are free to enroll in accredited online educational programs in addition to traditional school programs.
And whenever we are speaking of Soldiers and benefits, it's important to stress that Soldiers do not make decisions about leaving or staying in the service based solely on money. Soldiers and their families believe deeply in the value of service to one's country; and though financial matters play a part, they are never the sole factor.
Bonus money and health care benefits can never explain why a Soldier chooses to spend two, three or sometimes four combat tours in the Middle East, often at the expense of seeing their children grow up. This is why more efforts like the Army Family Covenant and the expanded GI Bill benefits are so important - they in some small way express a country's gratitude for the sacrifices of these Soldiers.
During this Christmas season (and beyond) Americans can show their support for the Soldiers by sending cards, gifts and snacks to those stationed abroad. And they should remember that even with reduced bonuses, America's Soldiers will always step up and serve their nation.