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Home : News : News
NEWS | May 20, 2024

Army service pays off for new Soldiers

By Jonathan Austin Army News Service

A recent high school graduate may ask, “If I enlist in the Army, what’s in it for me?”

The answers are wide-ranging yet simple: you get good pay and benefits, professional advanced training, the chance to travel, and the opportunity to build strength and character and be part of something greater than you might have thought possible.

A single, 18-year-old enlisted member at the starting rank — pay grade E-1 with less than four months of service — receives, on average, a starting annual regular military compensation package of approximately $43,500 in basic pay, basic allowance for housing, basic allowance for subsistence and federal tax advantages, according to an analysis by two senior officials who specialize in Army compensation and entitlements.

Over the first three years, that Soldier’s annual regular compensation (pay grade E-4 with three years of service) will grow by over $13,000 to $56,700, said Dr. Robert Steinrauf, head of Plans and Resource Directorate, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, or G-1.

When the Soldier reaches the rank of Sergeant (pay grade E-5 with four years of service) and assumes leadership responsibilities, compensation increases to over $66,100 per year, Steinrauf said.

Service in the Army also gives a young person the opportunity to fulfill their passion, to become mentally stronger than they’ve likely ever been, and to have experiences unlike those available with most employers in the civilian world.

For recent high school graduates, the Army compensation is often much greater than is available in the private sector, says James D. Riley, chief of the Army Compensation and Entitlements Division.

The benefits for Soldiers are wide-ranging, to include:

Career Guidance

The Army offers a broad range of programs that can help an enlistee figure out what career fits best and may help to establish them in a similar career field during and after service. The Army assists Soldiers in obtaining and funding certifications such as Adobe Certified Expert or Certified Fitness Trainer, enabling them to acquire skills applicable in both military and civilian sectors.


The Army supports service members and their families by offering healthcare services at no cost, covering personal healthcare expenses as well as those for spouses and children of active duty Soldiers.

The average healthcare value for a Soldier with dependents is estimated at $17,255 a year. In the private sector, families can expect to pay up to $1,212 a month for healthcare.

In the private sector, an unexpected trip to urgent care or the emergency room can impact your bank account even if you have insurance.

“You're gonna pay for it because there's a thing called a deductible. Right?” Riley said.

Paid time off

Soldiers begin to accrue 30 days of paid vacation each year beginning the very first month of service. Upon enlisting, the regular Soldier earns two-and-a-half days a month of vacation time, Steinrauf said.

Further, based on the advice of a healthcare provider, service members can receive paid time off to recover from illness, injuries or while on convalescent leave, he said.

Retirement benefit

Soldiers may qualify for an Army retirement after the successful completion of 20 years of active-duty service.

“That 18-year-old would be eligible for retirement at age 38, drawing 40% of his or her base pay” immediately upon retiring, Steinrauf said.

Thrift Savings Plan

In addition to the defined benefit retirement plan, Soldiers can elect to begin setting aside contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan after only 60 days of service. The government will also begin matching those contributions up to 5% after two years of service.

If a service member contributes 5% to the Thrift Plan for 20 years, their retirement account would have grown to approximately $150,000 based on their contribution and the Army’s matching contribution, Steinrauf said. Left untouched, that would multiply to more than $600,000 by the time the former Soldier reached true retirement age.

Education assistance

The Army offers a variety of education financial programs to help Soldiers on active duty or in the Reserve or National Guard, Steinrauf said.

An enlisted active-duty Soldier can use tuition assistance to earn up to 16 credit hours a year, with a cap of $4,000 a year, he said.

The Army's Student Loan Repayment Program can provide assistance with student loan repayment with the maximum amount of $65,000 over the course of a Soldier's enlistment.

There are also programs the Soldier can access to pay for college after leaving the Army.

Subsidized childcare

The Department of Defense provides subsidized, on-base child development centers. Soldiers who obtain childcare off-base may also be eligible for significant subsidies through programs like the Military Child Care Fee Assistance.

Tax Deductions

When you serve in the Army, there are special tax breaks. Certain rules apply to deductions or credits that you may be able to claim that can lower your taxes.

Parental leave and maternity care

The parental leave program offers Soldiers up to 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child, adoption of a child, or long-term placement of a foster child, Steinrauf said. This is for birth mothers or fathers, same-sex couples, and adoptive and surrogate parents.

Birthing parents get medical services, treatments and care needed throughout pregnancy, during delivery, and generally six weeks postpartum.

Steinrauf said the Army helps female Soldiers who need to travel for work but have a nursing baby at home. For mothers traveling more than three days on official duty, the Army will pay to have breast milk shipped back for her baby, up to a cumulative value of $1,000.

Family planning

Soldiers can stay at their current base for up to two years while they or their spouse pursue fertility treatment. For adoptive parents, eligible active-duty Soldiers may get up to $2,000 per child they adopt, and up to $5,000 per year for multiple adoptions, for qualifying adoption expenses.

TSA PreCheck

Soldiers may qualify for TSA PreCheck based on their eligibility determined by the Transportation Security Administration, which can be used for official and personal travel at no additional cost to the service member.

Hotels and lodging

Soldiers have access to the Armed Forces Recreation Centers, which are resorts around the world available exclusively to them and their families. The cost of the vacation is based on rank and pay grade, making it much more affordable than other resorts.

VA home loan

Soldiers who have completed two years of service are eligible for a VA Home Loan, which enables them to purchase a home at a competitive interest rate, often without the need for a down payment or private mortgage insurance.

Soldiers also have free gym access, guaranteed low-cost Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance; child, youth, and family support programs; discounted retail shopping at the Commissary and Exchange; and reduced cost access to a wide range of morale, welfare and recreation offerings — club, golf, swimming pool, other sports and recreation facilities; and commercial discount tickets.

Riley said the new Army recruit is surpassing the performance and starting salary of a food service worker and is prepared and ready to excel in multiple facets of life.

“Enlisting in the Army gives you immediate income and training, and a military career helps you build a solid financial foundation,” Steinrauf said.