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Thousands defer plans to leave the military during crisis

Uncertainty about future jobs or college opportunities is driving more service members to re-enlist.

Army Sgt. Antonio Gozikowski was planning to leave the military next month and head to college.

After serving for six years, the dental assistant’s goal was to become a dentist, and then return to the Army in a few years with his expanded medical skills. But now, with the coronavirus forcing universities to consider virtual or reduced schooling this fall, he decided to take advantage of a new Army program and extend his military service for six more months.

Across the military, uncertainty about future jobs or college opportunities is driving more service members to re-enlist or at least postpone their scheduled departures. As unemployment, layoffs and a historic economic downturn grip the nation, the military — with its job security, steady paycheck and benefits — is looking much more appealing.

“Everything from elementary schools to universities is closing down and there’s no saying how it’s going to go when the fall semester opens,” said Gozikowski, adding that he’s hoping schools start opening up for spring semester. “This is like a safety net. I have a source of income and I’ll be able to continue working.”

Gozikowski, who is from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and is serving at Fort Hood, Texas, is one of hundreds of service members who are taking advantage of newly developed, short-term extensions being offered by the military.

As of last week, the Army had already exceeded its retention goal of 50,000 soldiers for the fiscal year ending in September, re-enlisting more than 52,000 so far. And the other services have also met or are closer than planned to their target numbers. The influx of people re-enlisting will offset any shortfalls in recruiting, which has been hampered by the outbreak. And that will help the services meet their total required troop levels for the end of the year.

“We’re hiring,” said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. “Like anything, market dynamics come into effect and people will see where the opportunities lie.”

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