National Guard Fights Drop In Recruits

By The Numbers

To combat lagging enlistment numbers, waivers can be issued to allow recruits to qualify for service. Below, the number of enlistment waivers issued for the first four months of these fiscal years to those without prior military service for:

Adult Major Misconduct Conviction

2007: 58
2008: 47
2009: 37

Medical Conditions

2007: 736
2008: 623
2009: 837

Source: U.S. Army

The miserable economy has made work easier for at least one group: Army recruiters. The Army has exceeded its recruiting goals since last fall, after some very tough years, but the Army's success comes at the expense of the Army National Guard, which is struggling to make its target recruiting numbers.

Recruits are looking for full-time work — something the Guard isn't always able to offer.

At the Illinois National Guard Armory in a working class neighborhood of Chicago, Spc. Jayson Randle works the phones, calling potential recruits and those who have shown interest in the Guard.

But these days, it's harder to get anyone to sign up. That's because potential recruits are enlisting in the regular Army, rather than the Guard.

"Our mission goal was 196 [recruits] for the state," says Capt. Paul Metzdorff a top recruiting officer for the National Guard in Illinois. "We fell short. I think our final number was around 112."

It's the same story all across the country. Guard officials in Washington say their overall recruiting numbers for the month of January could miss their target by as much as 20 percent.

That kind of drop-off hasn't been seen since 2005, when recruits stayed away because of Iraq. But the reason this time is that many who lost their jobs are looking for a steady paycheck.

"Most people are looking for active, full-time work rather than part-time work," Randle says.

Full-time work is what's offered in the active-duty Army, but Randle only offers part-time work with the Guard.

Guard units still deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. But for the most part, Guard soldiers just get paid for one weekend a month and two weeks each summer. That's perfect for a student, who can also pick up some education benefits.

Quality Vs. Quantity

On the other side of this cinder-block office, crammed with metal desks, posters and stacks of brochures is Sgt. 1st Class Reginald Spearman. He's been a recruiter for six years, and now he's seeing a different kind of recruit — those who once had a choice of careers.

"You have people with college degrees and master's degrees who can't find a job," Spearman says. "I enlisted a guy two months ago who had a master's in English and couldn't find a job, so he figured his last resort was to go active."

Spearman says he was able to sign up that recruit because of a special program called Active First. That means the recruit goes into the active-duty Army first — for three years — then spends the remaining five years in the National Guard.

Because the National Guard is trying to come up with a higher quality recruit, it has had a hard time meeting its targets. The Guard has stopped taking those with low scores on the military's aptitude test.

The regular Army, on the other hand, is looking for quantity, so its quality numbers are suffering. The Army is bringing in more recruits than the Guard with waivers for criminal misconduct and medical problems.

But the Army has been able to exceed its recruiting goals for the past four months, and the Army is once again expected to have brought in more recruits in January than it was aiming for.

Top Guard officials say they're not worried yet about their recruiting troubles, but they do see another concern: Federal budget cuts may force the cancellation of the Guard's $20,000 enlistment bonus.

Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard at the Pentagon, says that money is needed to keep the Guard competitive with the regular Army, which offers a $40,000 bonus.

"As long as the money's there to pay the bonus piece, I think that we will overcome that," Vaughn says. "I think it's going to be tougher rather than easier."

That bonus makes sense to Randle, the recruiter in Chicago.

"A lot of people — they're looking for the money," he says. "They're looking for the 20 grand — that's a big part of it."

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