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WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials hope last fiscal year’s recruiting and retention momentum will help spur efforts to significantly increase the Army’s and Marine Corps’ end strength in coming years.

All four active-duty branches reached their recruiting and retention targets when the fiscal year ended last month, according to David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Chu said among the positive trends recruiters saw was a “leveling off” among influencers — parents and teachers of young adults considering enlisting — who had previously discouraged military service.

Still, he acknowledged that as the recruiting goals likely will increase next year, officials will have to do a better job selling the benefits of military service.

“We do still need to work on this question of influencer attitudes,” he said. “I think the big challenge to us is if these influencers’ attitudes go south again, we will have trouble getting [our targets].”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has tentatively approved plans to increase the Army’s end strength by 30,000 soldiers over the next three years, instead of the original five-year time frame.

Chu said that likely will push the active-duty Army recruiting goal for this year above last fiscal year’s 80,000, but would not specify what the target will be. Retention success will mandate the exact number, he said.

Meanwhile, Marine Corps officials are planning to add 16,000 troops over the next four years to raise their end strength to more than 200,000, mandating higher goals for them as well.

Chu insisted the adds can be done without a loss of quality, pointing to the last years’ servicewide recruiting class’ high school graduation rate of more than 90 percent.

“We aim for the military to draw an above-average slice of America into its enlisted ranks,” he said.

However, the Army managed only a 79 percent graduation rate among its recruits, and waivers for criminal infractions or other character issues rose from 15 percent in fiscal 2006 to 18 percent in fiscal 2007.

Chu said those figures are below targets but still above whom the military was recruiting in the late 1980s.

Recruiters for all the services’ guard and reserve components met their fiscal 2007 goals except the National Guard and Air National Guard, which fell 5 percent and 7 percent short respectively.

However, officials said retention among those troops was higher than anticipated, keeping their end strength at the targeted levels.

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