Army Recruiting Continues on Downward Trend

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For the fourth consecutive month, the Army has failed to meet its recruiting goals. The Army achieved only 75 percent of its goal for the month of May.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

For the fourth straight month, the Army has failed to meet its recruiting goal. It came up short again in the month of May. The other services--the Navy, Air Force and Marines--did much better. As NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports, the military is concerned about the Army's troubles since the Army provides much of the combat strength in Iraq.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

According to Defense Department figures released today, the Army met only 75 percent of its active duty recruiting target for last month. The Army National Guard met 71 percent of its goal, and the Army Reserve 82 percent. By contrast, the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Air Force reached or exceeded their targets.

In a statement released with the new figures, the Army expressed cautious optimism that it would meet its goal for the year for active duty recruits, but said the numbers for the National Guard and Reserve are a concern. Last month, Major General Michael Rochelle, the commander of recruiting, told Pentagon reporters that low unemployment and the number of casualties sustained by the Army and Marines make recruiting very tough.

Major General MICHAEL ROCHELLE (Commander of Recruiting, US Army): 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: On the positive side, the latest Defense Department figures substantiate what Pentagon officials have been saying for some time, that while Army recruitment is down, people in the active Army and Army Reserve are re-enlisting. In fact, the figures show that all of the services met or exceeded their re-enlistment goals for last month. But military officials clearly are worried about the nation's ground forces, which have become critical in the fight against terrorism.

General Rochelle told an audience yesterday that the Army is likely to start the 2006 recruiting cycle far short of its goals. The Army has taken a number of steps in recent months to try to reverse the situation. It's overhauled its recruiting campaigns to emphasize the theme of patriotism. It also has offered a variety of new incentives to encourage young people to enlist. But retired Major General Robert Scales, former head of the US Army War College, says the Army needs to overhaul its Cold War era approach to recruiting.

Major General ROBERT SCALES (US Army, Retired): The last three recruiting months has taught the Army the lesson that the traditional peacetime policies for recruiting and selection have been stretched about as far as they can go. And simply throwing money in terms of bonuses at young soldiers to get them into the service is no longer enough to meet the numbers.

O'HARA: Scales suggests that the US military should compensate service personnel based on the level of risks that they take. Scales says that combat pay doesn't begin to do that. For his part, General Rochelle says the American people need to stand behind the all-volunteer Army by encouraging young people to serve their country. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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