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In 1998 and again in 1999, the Army missed its recruiting goals. But the challenges then were modest compared to what the Army faces today, said Curtis Gilroy, the Defense Department’s director of recruiting policy.

“And that’s primarily because of the Iraq war,” said Gilroy. “It’s really very, very different” than in the late 1990s.

The problem then was a budget miscalculation. Recruiting services had too little money for advertising and too few recruiters on the street to compete for volunteers in a thriving economy.

Today’s challenge centers on the continuing deployment of 140,000 ground forces to the war zone of Iraq with no exit schedule on the table. The Marine Corps is still getting the recruits it needs. Not so the Army.

From October 2004 through June of this year, the Army enlisted 47,121 recruits. That was 14 percent below goal, or a shortage of nearly 8,000. The Army National Guard was short by 23 percent, or 10,400 recruits, and the Army Reserve by 21 percent, down 4,100 volunteers. Those are significant shortages. Gilroy cited four factors:

Expanding job market: As in the late ’90s, the U.S. economy is strengthening. Current unemployment is 5 percent, Gilroy said, down from 6.3 percent in June 2004.More people needed: Worried about the strain from Iraq operations, Congress ordered active Army strength raised by 30,000 soldiers over three years. To achieve that growth, the Army raised its recruiting target for 2004 in midyear, from 72,000 to 77,000. For fiscal 2005, it raised it again, to 80,000.The Iraq war: Prospective recruits obviously weigh the dangers. But Gilroy said the war increased the “frequency and duration of deployments” and also forced the Army to issue stop-loss orders to block scheduled separations or retirements of thousands of soldiers with critical skills. “Those have been significant issues for a lot of servicemembers and their families,” Gilroy said.Fewer influencers: Fewer “influencers” of American youth are recommending they join the military. Mothers, in particular, said Gilroy, “are very concerned about their sons and daughters joining the military and are not encouraging it.” He shared survey data showing that in November 2004, 31 percent of parents and 47 percent of nonparent influencers said they likely would encourage youth to join the military. By May, after another six months of war, only 25 percent of parents and 42 percent of nonparents said they would encourage youth to enlist.Unlike during the Vietnam War, there are no draft boards today feeding a stream of youth into the Army in whatever numbers the service says it needs. Now if a war loses popular support, the flow of volunteers can dry up. Larger enlistment bonuses and other incentives can help, but for how long?

Among today’s youth, the sharp drops in enlistment have been among blacks and women, Gilroy said. In June 2003, 10 percent of recruit-age women surveyed said they were inclined to enter service. By November 2004, the figure had fallen to 7 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of black youth likely to join fell from 21 percent to 11 percent.

Army recruit quality also has slipped, as measured by test scores and percentage of recruits with high school diplomas. But quality, for the most part, remains above Defense Department benchmarks, said Gilroy.

To set those marks, the department in the 1990s looked at the force that won the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and found that 90 percent were high school graduates and that 60 percent had scored average or above on recruit entrance exams. The Pentagon adopted those quality makers. The National Academy of Sciences later reviewed and endorsed them as acceptable for fielding a volunteer force that balanced quality with cost.

Through June this year, 89.3 percent of Army recruits were high school graduates, a slight dip below that 90 percent benchmark. In contrast, through the first nine months of fiscal 2004, almost 97 percent of Army recruits had diplomas.

Army recruit test scores also have fallen but remain above the 60 percent benchmark. Through June this year, 71 percent of recruits had test scores of average or above. The comparable figure for the first nine months of fiscal 2004 was 78.4 percent.

Gilroy said recruit quality is still strong. In fact, no part of this recruiting challenge has shaken Gilroy’s confidence in the all-volunteer force.

“Obviously, how the Iraq war turns will be significant,” he said. But recruiting budgets and enlistment bonuses are being raised, and political leaders, including the president, have begun to urge more youth to serve.

A return to conscription, he said, would only deepen any hard feelings in America toward the war.

“We would now be coercing these individuals into serving … and that would actually exacerbate the problem,” Gilroy said.

To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, e-mail milupdate@aol.com or visit militaryupdate.com.


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