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A new war is on the Navy's horizon, one for keeping the best people with the hottest skills in the ranks.

The Navy's top personnel boss expects to see a down-tick in retention in the next year and is mounting a counteroffensive that has good news for many: increased re-up bonuses.

Officials hope the new rates will entice at least 9,500 sailors to re-enlist from an eligible population of more than 23,200.

Plus, thousands more could cash in if they re-up early.

That's nearly 3,000 more re-up bonuses than the 6,410 sailors originally targeted for this fiscal year.

And the money is bigger: The rules raise the max to $100,000 per contract.

Changes to the Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program offer more bucks than the Navy has issued in at least half a decade. The service cut back on the program, and froze it altogether at times, during the most recent drawdown.

But times are changing.

With the economy gaining steam, Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of naval personnel, decided to sweeten the re-up bonuses to keep in those with the most critical skills before they leave the service.

"We continue to monitor retention behavior closely and expect to meet aggregate enlisted retention goals in [fiscal year] 2014, but are seeing problems on the fiscal 2015 horizon," Moran warned the House Armed Services Committee in his March 25 written testimony.

"We expect to begin experiencing retention challenges within some ratings in specific communities — targeting junior enlisted personnel with increased incentives may prove critical for achieving required retention in FY2015, and beyond," Moran said.

Moran said he expected to see fewer re-ups in communities such as information dominance, special warfare, nuclear, advanced electronics and medical.

The Navy has budgeted $133.5 million for new SRB contracts this fiscal year, up from $115.8 million paid out last year. The fiscal 2015 budget request shows another increase, with $135.6 million to pay out.

Rule changes

For the most critical skills — 15 rating and Navy enlisted classification combinations — the Navy upped the maximum payout to $100,000 per contract and a $200,000 career cap, in keeping with a new Defense Department instruction. The new rules were released April 10 in NAVADMIN 081/14.

But another new rule limits the annual payout to $25,000 — a change that for some means taking a four-year hitch to get the max.

These rule changes will only impact the most critical of skills, especially SEALs and nuclear-trained sailors who maxed out at the previous limit, $90,000, with a three-year contract.

SEALs and nukes aren't the only ones with a shot at the new maxes. Master divers, special warfare boat operators, explosive ordnance disposal technicians and submarine-qualified sonar techs can also net that amount, depending on the length of their re-enlistment.

Sailors will still get half their bonus up front and the remainder in equal amounts annually over the rest of their contract.

And if you're looking for a good reason to ship out, remember: Those stationed or deployed in a tax-free zone, such as the Persian Gulf, get their initial payment and anniversary payments without deductions.

The service also will continue to pay out maximums of $30,000, $45,000, $60,000 and $75,000 to sailors in other eligible rating/NEC combos. Who rates what levels depends on how critical the skills are to the Navy — and how tough it is to recruit and train replacement sailors.

More ups than downs

On the upside, officials have added 18 new skill combinations to the list and increased another 42 combos. On the downside, they've reduced eight skills and eliminated another seven.

The increased payout levels take effect immediately, while the decreases don't officially kick in until May 10.

Those with skills that saw decreases or elimination from the SRB payouts must have already been approved for re-enlistment, as all SRB requests must be approved 30 days prior to re-enlistment.

Most of the new additions to the list are for ratings as a whole; for example, all first-term boatswain's mates now qualify for a bonus. The same is true for all three types of aviation boatswain's mates: ABE, ABF and ABH.

It's the same situation for second-term sailors in these surface engineering ratings: Damage controlman, electrician's mate, gas turbine system technician (mechanical), hull technician and machinery repairman.

But there's some that saw reductions. Navy divers, after decades of rating re-up bucks, continued their two-year drop in SRB eligibility with first-term, second class divers and second-term, first class divers washing off the list.

Also cut: third-term SEALs who hold the naval special warfare medic NEC, though that 5392 skill continues to rate high payouts for first- and second-term sailors.

The eliminations also hit first- and second-term cryptologic technicians (maintenance) and first-term cryptologic technicians (collection), along with helicopter naval aircrewmen with the 7815S NEC.

MORE: See the full list of Selective re-enlistment bonuses

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