Tags: Armed | Services | Miss | Recruitment | Goals | Officials | Worried

Armed Services Miss Recruitment Goals, Officials Worried

Friday, 04 March 2005 12:00 AM

"When people ask you what you worry about the most, I say there's just two words: People and money," he added.

Recruitment has continued to slide for months but generally speaking all five branches – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – have been able to entice enough new volunteers to join.

But, The New York Times reports, last month "the active-duty Army shipped 5,114 recruits to boot camp, 27 percent below its goal of 7,050; it was the first time since May 2000 that the Army missed a monthly goal."

In all, the paper said, the Army has managed to fulfill 94 percent of its goal of 29,185 new recruits. For the fiscal year, Army officials say the goal is 80,000 new soldiers, or 3,000 more than 2004.

The latter figures are at least encouraging, say Army officials, so there no need to panic just yet. And, Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman told the Times, the service "is banking on the traditional summer surge of new recruits."

Other services are having been missing monthly goals too. National Public Radio reports that Army National Guard figures are off 24 percent in the past four months, with Army Reserve figures down 10 percent.

Also, NPR reported, the Marine Corps missed its recruiting goal by 3 percent in January and another 6 percent in February. But a spokesman for the Corps said the service expected to reach its annual goals, adding the branch exceeded its goal of shipping new recruits to boot camp last month.

There are a number of reasons why the services may be suffering from recruitment shortfalls, say military officials. Besides the continuing combat in Iraq – where some 1,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the March 2003 invasion – civilian enticements, such as higher pay and better benefits, continue to cause goal shortages.

"That's a factor, that we're a nation at war," Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, told reporters this week, in acknowledging more parents were advising their children to avoid military service for the time being.

"If it's a young kid who's in high school and contemplating his future, what are his parents advising him?" Di Rita asked. "I mean, without question, when there's the kind of coverage that there has been about casualties – and we certainly mourn all the casualties, but they are covered, there's prominent media coverage of casualties in Iraq – parents factor those kinds of things in to what they want their children doing."

In recognition of the economic differences between civilian and military life, however, the Pentagon has authorized the services to boost retention benefits to keep experienced troops, as well as sign-on bonuses to attract new ones.

Army officials say that service has recently authorized up to $20,000 in re-enlistment bonuses for some ratings, and most of the services have added recruiters as well, in order to cast a wider net for new soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The continued combat in Iraq and Afghanistan – about 155,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, with about 17,000 in Afghanistan – has forced the Pentagon to dip into its Reserve and Guard components, often deploying troops with key specialties for months at a time.

That has led to a decrease in recruiting for those affiliated branches as well.

Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, the Army National Guard's commander, says his force will probably fail to meet recruiting goals for 2006 unless things calm down in Iraq and elsewhere.

In an interview with Knight-Ridder Tribune newspapers, Schultz said the service would probably need less than the 52,000 Guard troops now serving in Iraq in 2006. But if the high demand persists at the current level, the Guard can't meet it "without recalling previously mobilized soldiers" under the 24-month call-up cap, he told KRT.

"No doubt, if we keep up this pace for extended periods, our force would come apart," he added. "We're not broken. Have we been tested? Yes."

And, despite a re-enlistment bonus of $15,000 for current Guard soldiers, recruitment is 12 percent shy of the service's goals.

But, Schultz told KRT, retention isn't the problem. The problem is getting new members to sign up. "Everybody's not walking out of the Guard when they come off active duty," he told KRT.

The Army Reserve faces similar challenges, and it's beginning to show in terms of its authorized strength. Congress set the Army Reserve at 350,000 soldiers; right now only 333,632 are enrolled.

"For the active duty for '05, it's going to be tough to meet our goal, but I think we can," Army personnel chief Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck told the Washington Post. "I think the telling year for us is going to be '06."

Even more compelling are Army plans to add 30,000 soldiers by 2009 to its current authorized strength of 482,000, expanding its ranks to 512,000. That takes time, especially when you have to train the newbies while culling out the unqualified prospects.

"It takes time, as you know, to grow the quality soldier," Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, told a House Armed Services panel hearing Feb. 9.

And some of those who would turn out to be great soldiers are being drawn away from the services by the strong economy, as evidenced by the February jobs report that showed employers snapping up workers from the jobless ranks at quite a clip.

Officials don't know if the traditional kinds of recruitment incentives will work during the kind of drawn-out conflict America is now experiencing, reports the Times, but there is one bright spot: Re-enlistment is still strong. Once America's sons and daughters get into the armed services, they tend to stay.

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"When people ask you what you worry about the most, I say there's just two words: People and money," he added. Recruitment has continued to slide for months but generally speaking all five branches - the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard - have been able to...
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Friday, 04 March 2005 12:00 AM
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