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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army National Guard has tripled re-enlistment bonuses and increased new enlistment bonuses by 67 percent in an effort to boost its ranks, Pentagon officials announced this week.

At a press conference on Thursday Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said the Army Guard has fallen short of recruiting over the past two months, largely due to troubles in Iraq. Officials hope the bonus increases will entice more new recruits, and retain more of the Guard’s 360,000 current members.

The Guard has had a particularly difficult time recruiting active-duty soldiers into its ranks. Stripes reported in November that just more than half of the 7,000 active-duty soldiers that the Guard sought to transition into its ranks did so in fiscal 2004.

As of Dec. 14 bonuses jumped from $5,000 to $15,000, for current servicemembers who re-enlist for six years. For those who are currently serving abroad, that money will be tax-free.

For new recruits, the signing bonus will grow from $6,000 to $10,000.

Mark Allen, spokesman for the Guard, said the new figures bring the bonuses more in line with those offered by the Army, which is especially important for Guard members serving abroad.

“What do you say to a guy who is serving in Iraq and is seeing an active-duty guy earning more in bonuses than he is?” Allen asked. “We haven’t changed these for many years. This will give more equity to our people there.”

Bonuses for active-duty Army recruits and re-enlistees depend on individual’s rank, specialties and length of service. Allen said the Guard’s bonus structure will apply to everyone who joins.

National Guard officials have said they expect the total number of reservists and guardsmen on active duty in the war on terrorism to remain above 100,000 for the next two years.

Department of Defense officials estimate Army Reserve soldiers make up about 40 percent of the 148,000 troops in Iraq.

The issue was raised Thursday by Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the head of the National Guard, who said that the Guard needs $20 billion in new weapons and equipment over the next three years to continue to meet all its overseas and homeland commitments.

Blum warned that the reserve force “will be broken and not ready the next time it’s needed, either at home or for war.”

His remarks came as the Bush administration is preparing to submit an emergency spending plan totaling more than $80 billion to cover war costs and remedy equipment shortages throughout the military. Guard officials have asked that $7 billion of the supplemental be earmarked for their troops, and they intend to seek an additional $13 billion in later budget requests.

“This has got to be addressed now,” he said of the Guard’s weakened condition. “The need for this money can’t fall through the cracks and be an afterthought.”

The $20 billion request represents a huge increase over the $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year in new equipment that the Guard has received in recent years. Blum said the funds would go toward a wide range of purchases, including aircraft, vehicles, radios and weapons.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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