Military Recruiters Find the Going Tough
SCOTT SIMON, host:
For the past three months, the US Army has failed to meet its recruiting quotas, and some recruiters have been accused of signing up young men and women they knew were not qualified. Despite the toughest recruiting environment that he's ever seen, Major General Mike Rochelle, the head of the US Army Recruiting Command, told a Pentagon briefing Friday that the Army will not lower its standards. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.
VICKY O'HARA reporting:
General Rochelle says the Army is investigating seven cases of alleged recruiter violations.
Major General MIKE ROCHELLE (US Army Recruiting Command): They generally fall in the area of pre-qualification, drug use, high-school degree, high-school diploma. I'll simply say taking shortcuts, which is simply not acceptable.
O'HARA: Recruiters are expected to sign up two young people each month, and Rochelle says that quota will not change. But he acknowledged the difficulties that recruiters face.
Maj. Gen. ROCHELLE: Is it challenging? Yes. It's challenging under the very best of conditions. Today's conditions represent the most challenging conditions we have seen in recruiting in my 33 years in this uniform.
O'HARA: General Rochelle cited relatively low unemployment as one factor, but he also cited the impact of the long ground war in Iraq, where most of the casualties have been sustained by the Army and Marines.
Maj. Gen. ROCHELLE: We now have very, very low propensity to enlist, both on the part of our young Americans, and likewise on the part of influencers, and by that I mean parents, coaches, other adults whose opinions matter to recommend Army service.
O'HARA: Rochelle noted that just after 9/11, 22 percent of these so-called influencers said they would recommend military service to a young person. That figure, he says, now has dropped to about 14 percent. The impact can be seen in recruiting. Rochelle says the regular Army is below its quota for this time in the year by 6,600 people.
In an effort to turn things around, the military has begun a new advertising campaign aimed at parents. Its dominant theme is patriotism, the duty of Americans to serve their country. Again, General Rochelle.
Maj. Gen. ROCHELLE: I just don't think the American people, by and large, realize how much is resting on not only this success for the all-volunteer Army, but frankly, as we go forward, and the global war on terror.
O'HARA: Pentagon officials from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down say they oppose a return to a military draft. An all-volunteer Army, they say, is a better Army. So the Defense Department is making a determined effort to preserve the all-volunteer force. General Rochelle notes that the Army is offering all kinds of new incentives to enlist.
Maj. Gen. ROCHELLE: We recently raised the Army's monetary incentive for going to training when we would like a young person to attend training for the regular Army to a $20,000 level. We took the Army college fund from $50,000 to $70,000.
O'HARA: As evidence of how dire the situation has become, the Army in March raised the age limit for recruits from 35 to 40, primarily for the Reserve. It also has expanded a pilot program that allows a new recruit to enlist in the regular Army for just 15 months, plus training time. The military previously had resisted shorter enlistments because of the time and costs involved in training recruits. Army officials say it's too early to assess whether these new incentives will convince more Americans to enlist.
Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, at the Pentagon.
SIMON: And the time is 18 minutes past the hour.
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