ARLINGTON, Va. — For the third month in a row, Marine recruiters have failed to find enough people willing to join the Corps.

While recruiters exceeded the number of volunteers who actually shipped off to basic training, at 103 percent of their March goal, they were just shy of signing enough new contracts, said Marine Corps Recruiting Command spokesman Maj. David Griesmer.

Recruiters missed that target by 56 new hires out of the 3,055 they were ordered to sign up in March, making 98 percent of their goal.

“We were pretty close,” said David Griesmer. “We only missed by about a recruiting station’s worth,” he said.

The Marine Corps Reserve is faring better, meeting both its shipping and contracting goals by 100 percent.

But with recruiters facing more parents reluctant to see their kids go fight in Iraq, the active side has now fallen short three months in a row. January’s shortfall alone was the first time that’s happened in a decade, and officials can’t remember the last time there’s been a three-month recruiting drought.

Now, the Corps is 181 behind the 18,287 recruits officials had hoped to sign up so far this year. Still, Griesmer points out, “that’s 99 percent of our year-to-date target.”

Compared to the Army, which has missed its goals by more than 10 percent in recent months — short thousands of hoped-for recruits — the Marine Corps’ troubles seem minimal. “The Army’s in a whole other league of difficulty,” Griesmer said.

But Marine recruiters are facing tough months ahead.

“April and May will be down to the wire, because they’re the hardest months for us,” Griesmer said. “We expect to make it, but it’s going to be close.”

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