U.S. Army Challenged to Meet Recruitment Goals

Madeleine Brand speaks with Gordon Adams, director of the Security Policy Studies program at George Washington University, about the challenges the U.S. Army is facing in meeting its recruitment goals while trying to maintain troop strength levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News and Slate Magazine online, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, our own Karen Grisby Bates looks at the impact the disappearance of an American teen-ager has had on Aruba's tourism industry.

But first, the military's latest recruiting numbers are out later today. It's widely expected that for the fourth month in a row, the Army will not meet its recruiting goals. Army officials had hoped to send more than 8,000 recruits to basic training last month, but then the goal was dropped to 6,700. And in the end, the Army sent only 5,000 new recruits. Here to talk about the Army's challenges recruiting new soldiers is Gordon Adams. He's director of the Security Policy Studies Program at George Washington University.

And, Gordon Adams, welcome to the program.

Mr. GORDON ADAMS (Director, Security Policy Studies Program, George Washington University): Thank you.

BRAND: Why do you think it's so hard for Army recruiters to enlist new soldiers?

Mr. ADAMS: Well, I think you can put it in one simple word right now, Iraq. The war in Iraq is not a popular war. And when wars become unpopular, people are less and less willing to re-enlist and they're less and less willing to enlist in the first place, not so much because they'll be at risk; they don't want to be at risk for what they see as not a very attractive cause.

BRAND: The Army has come out with some incentives, some new incentives, one of which would be to double the top cash bonus for some new recruits to $40,000. Do you think that and some other incentives might work?

Mr. ADAMS: Well, it's going to work to some degree. The Army's going to have to do a couple of things. They're going to have to increase the incentives and they're going to have to dig deeper in the pool. They're going to have to go to slightly lower quality potential recruits in order to fill up the numbers they need.

BRAND: Right. And the Army said yesterday, actually, that they would accept older candidates. They might be more tolerant of people with past minor crimes.

Mr. ADAMS: The Army was very proud in the last 20 years that they were recruiting people into the military who were 99 percent high school graduates, passed all of the Army entrance examinations with flying colors, were drug free, crime free, in the right age bracket. All of those things will now have to be relaxed if the Army's going to find the number of people they need. And that has consequences, of course, for the Army, for the ability of people to train and be skilled in time, for the import of social problems into the military. It's not going to be as bad as Vietnam where we had a conscript Army, but they're going to have some social issues they may have to deal with as they begin to dig deeper in the pool.

BRAND: You mentioned conscript Army. When do we get to the point where we're seriously considering a draft?

Mr. ADAMS: I don't think we're going to consider a draft. Going to a draft to staff up the Army for an unpopular war is calling for a major political debate that the politicians and the administration surely don't want to have. And the other reason is, because the officer corps is extremely happy with a volunteer Army. They really don't want to go back to the days when they were training tens of thousands of soldiers at Ft. Dix, solving all of the nation's social problems, dealing with all the social tensions and trying to make soldiers out of them.

BRAND: But when do we get to a point where we have to consider it, when the recruiting issue becomes such a problem?

Mr. ADAMS: Well, the Army has two directions, and, in fact, the administration has two directions it can go here. I don't think they're going to go to a draft. And what would obviously solve the Army's recruitment problem right now would be to reduce the force that is present in Iraq. When you're rotating a hundred and thirty thousand troops in Iraq, you need a hundred and thirty thousand behind them to take their place, and you need a hundred and thirty thousand that are retraining once they've come out of Iraq. So it really digs deep both into the Guard and Reserve and into the active duty force. As those numbers in Iraq come down, that is one solution that will make this recruitment problem go away. I know that the administration is anxious to reduce the American military presence in Iraq. So that will become a forcing event with respect to looking at the policy.

BRAND: Gordon Adams is the director of the Security Police Studies Program at George Washington University. And, Mr. Adams, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. ADAMS: You're welcome.

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