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WASHINGTON — Soldiers and especially those in reserve units could start to feel the pinch from the Army’s recruiting shortfalls this year, according to military experts.

The Department of Defense this week announced the Army missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal by more than 6,600 soldiers, bringing in 73,373 new troops over the last year.

The Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve and Air National Guard also all missed their recruiting goals, each pulling in less than 90 percent of their targets.

On the positive side, the Marine Corps, which had missed several monthly recruiting goals earlier this year, reached its year-end enlistment goals. So did the Navy, Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve.

But the active-duty Army shortfall — they recruited about 4,000 fewer soldiers than in fiscal 2004 — is especially troubling because the service has already widened its recruit pool to accept older candidates and those with lower test scores, according to Mike Reilly, vice president of operations at the Center for Security Policy.

“You can’t compare these numbers to the ones from last year, because you have to understand what they did to get these new numbers,” he said. “They’ve really gone down more than just what the difference is.”

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart said the recruiting shortfall will not have an effect on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, or create any more stop-loss orders for troops nearing separation from the service.

But John Grady, spokesman for the Association of the United States Army, said units could start to see problems as older soldiers move up in rank or retire from the service.

“Someone has to do those jobs, and you can’t have senior soldiers in entry-level posts,” he said. “So it does have an impact.”

Grady said the 6,600 gap in recruits isn’t a major problem for now, but it is a concern as the Army tries to increase its end strength over the next few years. If recruiting doesn’t get on track, the result could be major gaps in unit functions.

And, if more active-duty soldiers need to stay put to keep the Army’s numbers up, that could cripple recruiting for the Reserves, he said.

Michael Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, said the shortfalls in Guard and reserve recruiting are already creating more uncertainty for those troops, whose role in the war on terror has created a new burden for their families and employers, who don’t know when their employees who are reservists may be called to duty.

He said he expects continued recruiting problems for reserve units until the Defense Department begins offering more incentives for recruits’ employers and families, like expanded health care coverage.


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