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calling all chickenhawks

Julie Fern

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calling all chickenhawks
« on: October 01, 2005, 02:54:42 AM »
Army Reports Worst Recruiting in Decades


WASHINGTON (Sept. 30) - The Army closed the books Friday on one of the leanest recruiting years since it became an all-volunteer service, missing its enlistment target by the widest margin since 1979 and raising questions about its plans for growth.

Many in Congress believe the Army needs to get bigger - perhaps by 50,000 soldiers over its current 1 million - in order to meet its overseas commitments, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army is on a path to add 30,000 soldiers, but that will be hard to achieve if recruiters cannot persuade more to join.

Officials insist the slump is not a crisis, although they predict that 2006 will as tough as 2005, if not tougher.

"Combined with a good economy and continued negative news from the Middle East, that means recruiting in fiscal year 2006 will be challenging," Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said Friday.

Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the recruiting shortfall this year does not matter greatly - for now.

"The bad news is that any shortfall shows how hard it would be to increase the Army's size by 50,000 or more as many of us think appropriate," O'Hanlon said. "We appear to have waited too long to try."

The Army has not published official figures yet, but it apparently finished the 12-month counting period with about 73,000 recruits. Its goal was 80,000. A gap of 7,000 enlistees would be the largest - in absolute number as well as in percentage terms - since 1979.

The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, which are smaller than the regular Army, had even worse results.

The active-duty Army had not missed its target since 1999, when it was 6,290 recruits short; in 1998 it fell short by 801, and in 1995 it was off by 33. Prior to that the last shortfall was in 1979 when the Army missed by 17,054 during a period when the Army was much bigger and its recruiting goals were double today's.

The Army became an all-volunteer service in 1974.

Army officials knew at the outset that 2005 would be a tough year to snag new recruits. By May it was obvious that after four consecutive months of coming up short there was little chance of meeting the full-year goal.

A summertime surge of signups offered some hope the slump might be ending. Hilferty, the Army spokesman, said that despite the difficulties, recruiters were going full speed as the end of fiscal year 2005 arrived Friday.

"We have met the active Army's monthly recruiting goals since June, and we expect to meet it for September, which sends us into fiscal year 2006 on a winning streak," Hilferty said. He also noted that the Army has met its re-enlistment goals, even among units that have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The outlook for reaching 80,000 recruits in 2006 is dimmed by several factors, including:

The daily reports of American deaths in Iraq and the uncertain nature of the struggle against the insurgency have put a damper on young people's enthusiasm for joining the military, according to opinion surveys.

The Army has a smaller-then-usual reservoir of enlistees as it begins the new recruiting year on Saturday. This pool comes from what the Army calls its delayed-entry program in which recruits commit to join the Army and then ship to boot camp months later.

Normally that pool is large enough at the start of the recruiting year to fill at least one-quarter of the Army's full-year need. As the new fiscal year begins Saturday, the figure apparently has dwindled to between 5 percent and 10 percent, although the official number has not been released. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, has said it would be the smallest in history.

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said in an interview that the Army would attract more recruits if it could offer shorter enlistments than the current three-year norm.

As it stands, the Army faces a tough challenge for the foreseeable future.

"The future looks even grimmer. Recruiting is going to get harder and harder," Moskos said.