WASHINGTON – Senior members of U.S. special operations forces will receive bonuses of up to $150,000 for staying in the military, an increase designed to keep the commandos from bolting to the more lucrative private sector.
The policy, announced by U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., provides an array of bonuses and incentives to experienced members of Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Air Force pararescuemen, plus a few other specialties.
“We are taking a lead role in the global war on terrorism, and it’s just important we do everything we can to support these professionals,” Maj. Ken Hoffman, a spokesman for the command, said Friday.
The largest bonus, $150,000, would go to senior sergeants, petty officers and warrant officers who sign up for an additional six years of service. Personnel who sign up for shorter extensions would receive smaller bonuses, down to $8,000 for one year. About 1,500 operators are eligible.
About 7,000 enlisted special operators at a midlevel rank or higher would receive $375 a month in additional pay, and senior operators with 25 years of experience would receive $750 a month more.
The skills of these troopers are in high demand in the war on terrorism. Depending on their specialty, they are trained in close-quarters combat, hostage rescue, combat search and rescue, hunting terrorists, and forging alliances and working with foreign and guerrilla forces overseas. Some are capable of operating in wilderness areas for extended periods.
They are also extremely difficult and expensive to train. Some candidates for special operations forces, drawn from elsewhere in the military, wash out because of the extreme physical and mental challenges.
This makes experienced troopers highly sought for security jobs in the private sector. Many former military special operators are in Iraq, working for private security contractors, at far better pay than they would have received had they stayed in the military.
“They’re the best in the world at what they do, so there is going to be that competition,” Hoffman said.
Military officials hope the bonuses will persuade younger troopers to stay in the service. The pace of operations since the Sept. 11 attacks is also taxing on the special operations forces and their families, officials say.
About 16,000 special operators are assigned to Special Operations Command, Hoffman said. That figure includes Army Rangers, pilots and aircrew who are not eligible for the bonuses.
In another change, special operations units will have new money available to them in the field. A recent change in the law that governs how the military spends money allows these units to spend up to $25 million a year to recruit, train and equip informers, guerillas and friendly security forces, defense officials said.
Previously, only the CIA (news – web sites) could provide this kind of support to foreign forces, and the military and CIA were not always able to coordinate their efforts. Defense officials say it was difficult during the Afghanistan war to provide all the support for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that they would have liked.
This money could go for the purchase of weapons, including Soviet-style weapons like AK-47s, the presence of which doesn’t give away U.S. involvement. Previously, Special Forces soldiers had to work through acquisition laws that required they buy American weapons like the M-16, which are often a dead giveaway of U.S. assistance.
The money could also go for food, vehicles and other forms of support, defense officials said.