There can be several reasons why the service may have problems attracting new recruits to some military specialties. Two of the most common are that the job has very high qualification standards, and/or the job simply doesn't sound attractive.
Enlistment bonuses are usually paid once initial training is complete (basic training and job training), upon arrival at the first duty station. Some of the services pay the entire bonus in one lump sum, while other services pay a portion of the enlistment bonus upon arrival at the first duty station, and the remainder of the bonus in periodic payments.
If a recruit fails to complete their entire contracted enlistment period in the job they agreed to, in most cases, they must return any "unearned" portion of the bonus. For example, if a recruit enlists in a specific job for four years with an enlistment bonus of $8,000, and becomes medically unqualified for the job after two years, he/she would have to return 1/2 of the bonus amount.
Re-enlistment bonuses, on the other hand are used to entice troops to re-enlist in a job that the military is experiencing shortages in. Generally, this because (1) the job sucks, or (2) the job is in high demand in the civilian job market. Re-enlistment bonuses are computed by "multipliers" assigned to specific jobs in "re-enlistment zones." For example, Zone A are for those with less than six years of service. So, if a job has a re-enlistment bonus multiplier of 3, for Zone A, that means those re-enlisting with less than six years of service would multiply their base pay by 3, then multiply that for the number of years re-enlisting for, and that would be their re-enlistment bonus amount.
50 percent of the re-enlistment bonus is usually paid at the time of re-enlistment, with the remainder paid in equal annual installments for the remainder of the enlistment period. As with enlistment bonuses, if the member fails to stay in that job for the entire re-enlistment period, they must repay any "unearned" portion of the bonus received.
Both enlistment bonuses and re-enlistment bonuses are taxable income (exception: If one re-enlists in a combat zone, the entire bonus amount is tax exempt).
For current enlistment and re-enlistment bonus amounts, see our Enlistment and Reenlistment Bonus Charts.