ARLINGTON, Va. — Battling recruiting and retention shortfalls among its part-time soldiers, the Army is launching a new experimental policy approving the acceptance of not-so-young recruits into the ranks of the Army National Guard and Reserve.

Dubbed a three-year “test,” the new policy will bump up the maximum age for new enlistments from 34 years to 39 years, according to an Army announcement.

The policy applies to both men and women joining the military for the first time. The older recruits will be eligible for the same enlistment bonuses and other incentives as younger volunteers, according to the announcement. Those with prior service experience interested in reserves duty remain under existing rules.

“The program will evaluate the feasibility of a permanent change to Army Reserve Component enlistment policy,” reads the announcement. The test program begins immediately and will run through September 30, 2008. Set by law, the maximum age for active-duty recruits will remain at less than 35 years old.

The move comes as reserve recruiters are struggling to convince potential recruits to join even as unit leaders are failing to convince enough troops to stay in uniform beyond initial contracts. Hundreds of thousands of part-time citizen soldiers have found themselves facing full-time duty in the combat zones, mostly under two-year mobilization orders. Of the more than 412,000 Guard and Reserve troops who have been activated since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 63,000 have been mobilized twice, according to Pentagon figures.

Nearly half of the forces now in the Middle East and Central Asia come from the reserve components, noted Charles S. Abell, the Pentagon’s top personnel officer, in prepared remarks delivered before lawmakers March 16.

With that as backdrop, he wrote, “This will be a very challenging year for recruiting for the reserve components particularly in the Army National Guard and Reserve,” which have born the vast majority of combat deployments among reserve forces. Both the Army Guard and Reserve, he wrote “are at high risk of falling short of their recruiting objectives.”

To help stem the tide, the Army National Guard is increasing its recruiting force by more than 25 percent, adding 1,400 new recruiters. Meanwhile, the Army Reserve is nearly doubling its recruiting ranks with 734 new recruiters.

The Army’s new policy should help their efforts.

“Raising the maximum age for non-prior service enlistment expands the recruiting pool, provides motivated individuals an opportunity to serve, and strengthens the readiness of Reserve units,” according to the Army statement announcing the new policy.

All applicants must meet the same eligibility standards, to include passing the same physical standards and medical examination.

“Experience has shown that older recruits who can meet the physical demands of military service generally make excellent Soldiers based on their maturity, motivation, loyalty, and patriotism,” reads the announcement.

It’s too early to say how much the new policy will help recruiters, but officials are hopeful.

“The impact of the measure on meeting enlistment goals has not been forecast, but it is expected to contribute to the Army’s efforts to recruit top-quality individuals,” according to the announcement.

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