Tyka Pettey wanted to go to a university. And she needed a car.
The Army is making both possible for the 21-year-old. She joined the Army Reserve in July and leaves in about a week for boot camp to start her new life as a soldier. She's getting a $20,000 signing bonus and is eligible for college money.
"You're really taking a major step from your civilian life ... but I just decided to go for it," said Pettey of Philadelphia.
Incentives could get even better under an Army proposal to fill wartime ranks.
Under the plan, enlistees could pick from a "buffet" of incentives, including up to $45,000 tax-free that they accrue during a career to help buy a home or build a business. Other options would include money for college and to pay off student loans.
An Associated Press review of the increasingly aggressive recruiting offerings found the Army is not only dangling more sign-up rewards - it's loosening rules on age and weight limits, education and drug and criminal records.
It's all part of an Army effort to fill its ranks even as the percentage of young people who say they plan to join the military has hit a historic low - 16 percent by the Pentagon's own surveying.
In June, the Army failed to meet its recruitment target for the second month in a row, although it apparently met its goal of 9,750 troops in July and is on target for 80,000 for the year that ends Sept. 30. The service spent nearly $1-billion last year on recruiting bonuses and ads.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to increase the size of the active-duty Army by 65,000 to 547,000 within five years, in part to ease wartime strain.
Among changes that have helped attract more recruits:
- Giving a $20,000 bonus to troops who join by Sept. 30 and leave for boot camp within a month.
- Raising the enlistment age to 42.
- Allowing recruits to come in with nonoffensive tattoos on their hands and neck.
- Offering a $2,000 bonus to Army soldiers who refer a new recruit.
- Allowing recruits who exceed weight limits to trim down their first year.
- Targeting potential recruits' parents with ads.
- Accepting more recruits with general education diplomas.
The military says less than 30 percent of Americans 17 to 24 meet its standards. Some reasons some are disqualified:
- 39 percent are medically disqualified (frequently because of obesity).
- 17 percent have abused drugs or alcohol.
- 9 percent have been involved in misconduct.
- 6 percent are disqualified because of an unusually high number of dependents.
- 3 percent are disqualified because of low aptitude.