Army Combats Rising Attrition Rate

The U.S. Army is running behind its recruitment goals for the year, and nearly one-fifth of those who sign up leave before completely training, according to a report in Friday's Wall Street Journal. Greg Jaffe, who wrote the story, discusses why the Army's attrition rates are rising.

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The US Army is having a harder time finding and keeping recruits. It's running well behind recruitment goals for the year and nearly one-fifth of those who do join up leave before they finish their training. An internal Army memo obtained by The Wall Street Journal calls the attrition problem `a matter of great concern,' and it includes orders that make it more difficult, more difficult now, to remove soldiers who are out of shape, pregnant or who abuse alcohol or drugs. Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Jaffe wrote about this memo in today's paper and joins us now.

Good morning, Greg.

Mr. GREG JAFFE (The Wall Street Journal): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Why is the Army having such a hard time?

Mr. JAFFE: Keeping soldiers? I think part of it is it's hard for them to tell whether this is--was just a temporary spike. I think in March, they were losing about 17 percent before they got to their unit, which is slightly above where it's been over the past year, about 14 percent. And I think they're struggling to figure out what the reason is and I don't think they know for sure.

INSKEEP: Now we've heard on this program in recent weeks about Army recruiters who got in trouble for trying too hard to fill their recruiting quotas, even in one case advising someone how to beat a drug test, getting people into the system, trying anyway, who obviously shouldn't be there. Now you've got this memo that would seem to suggest that they want to keep people in the system even when they appear maybe not to be ideal recruits.

Mr. JAFFE: Well, the Army says they're not lowering standards and that that's not the case, that what they're trying to do is figure out are they, the folks they're pushing out--should they be pushing them out? In other words, are there some good soldiers who they could save? And if there are, even if it's a small number, you know, over the course of a year, it could really add up to a lot of folks.

INSKEEP: So what does this--what do the commanders want to do overall, then?

Mr. JAFFE: Well, the commanders--I guess, you have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I think some of them feel that these small number of soldiers who don't meet standards, you know, are their biggest headaches and the easiest thing is to get rid of them. You know, some of them, I think, look at it and say, `Well, you know, maybe if we do think a little harder, we are throwing away a lot of good soldiers because we're not giving them a chance.'

INSKEEP: You also quote some people in your story who say that they think some recruits are washing out just because the training is tougher. Is it really that much tougher?

Mr. JAFFE: I think it has been more rigorous, yes. There's a lot more live-fire training, not so much for the combat arms folks, but for the folks--you know, the supply clerks and the rear area folks and the logistics folks. The Army has really realized that everybody in places like Iraq and Afghanistan is vulnerable, and as a result, those folks whose training probably wasn't as rigorous as it should be has gotten much tougher.

INSKEEP: Greg, is the fundamental problem here just that there's a war on, and when there's a war on, it's going to be hard to fill the ranks of the Army?

Mr. JAFFE: I think that's true. It's going to be hard and it's going to be expensive. And I think that's one of the things that we're learning about an all-volunteer force. This is a first time we've fought a war, an extended war, at least, with an all-volunteer force, and I think we're learning as we go.

INSKEEP: Greg, thanks very much.

Mr. JAFFE: Sure.

INSKEEP: Greg Jaffe is a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, which reported this morning that the Army is concerned about letting too many recruits out of training too early.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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