ARLINGTON, Va. — Just more than half of the 7,000 active-duty soldiers that the Army National Guard sought to transition into its ranks did so in fiscal 2004, according to a Guard official.

The Guard managed to recruit just 3,900, or 58 percent, of those soldiers, during the one-year period that ended Sept. 30, according to Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Jones.

Such soldiers are one of “three funnels that fill up the tub” for the Guard’s recruits, Jones said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

The other two sources of recruits are people with no prior service who are recruited at the state level; and people who have served in the military, but left for some time before deciding to join the Guard, Jones said.

Soldiers who make an immediate transition to the Guard, with no break in service, are a treasured resource because their training, physical conditioning, experience, and proven record of success in the military all are up to date, said Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, director of the Army National Guard.

Schultz spoke Friday at the annual Military Reporters and Editors Conference in Arlington.

By comparison, “we’ve had years in the past when [as many as] 10,000 [active-duty] soldiers joined the Guard,” said Schultz.

Retention, meanwhile, or the number of guardsmen who chose to stay, “was great,” 99.8 percent in fiscal 2004, Jones said.

“We were surprised,” Jones said. “Retention exceeded what we thought.”

The higher-than-expected retention helped the Guard finish the year with 342,918 soldiers, or 98 percent of end strength, Schultz said.

To maintain its authorized end strength of 350,000, the Guard needed to recruit 56,000 soldiers in fiscal 2004 but ended up with about 88 percent of that total.

“We missed by 8,000” soldiers, Schultz said.

And after holding conversations with active-duty soldiers deployed to Iraq, the three-star general told a roundtable on reserve and National Guard issues at the conference that he is convinced that “nothing” will persuade these war-weary soldiers to jump straight into the Guard.

“I don’t think there’s a thing in the world we can do” to change these soldiers’ minds, Schultz said, even though Congress added bonuses and benefits to the 2005 National Defense Authorization for reservists.

“Money won’t drive everything right now,” Schultz said.

“It’s not that these soldiers have a bad attitude,” resenting the Army for sending them to combat zones for a year or more, Schultz said. “It’s just that they need a break, and they’ve figured the deal out.”

“The deal” is the realization that joining the Army National Guard no longer means immunity for deployments, he said.

The Army National Guard is adding another 1,000 recruiters before the end of the year to its existing force of 2,700 in an attempt to boost its end strength, but Schultz said he remains worried about strains on the force.

Staying up to strength is vital for the Guard because the pace of the Army’s reserve deployments continues to be at an historical high.

As of mid-November, more than 93,400 National Guardsmen were either deployed or preparing for deployment, Schultz said, and in Iraq, reservists now account for 40 percent of the U.S. force.

And the third rotation of U.S. forces to Iraq, which is slated to begin next February or March, will include even more reserve and Guard soldiers than the first two rotations, Army officials have said.

“The question is how long can we keep this up?” Schultz said.

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