Halfway through the fiscal 2006 recruiting year, the U.S. Army has netted 737 fewer new soldiers than at this point last year, when it went on to miss its annual recruiting goal for the first time since 1999.
The Pentagon on Monday released its latest recruiting data showing that from last October through the end of March, the Army netted 31,369 recruits, compared to 32,106 at this time last year.
More than three years into the Iraq war, the Army continues to provide the bulk of U.S. ground forces in the conflict.
Army officials have said recruiting has become more difficult because of wariness among some young people and their parents about enlisting during wartime, as well as a growing economy offering more civilian job opportunities.
“The Iraq war has damaged the Army’s relationship with its most important recruiting target — not the 18-year-old but their mother. That’s been the real issue. And mothers are hard to convince,” said defense analyst Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute think tank.
The Army has set a mission for fiscal 2006, which ends on September 30, of sending 80,000 recruits into boot camp, the same goal that it missed by more than 6,600 in fiscal 2005.
In March, the Army got 5,396 new recruits, topping its goal of 5,200, the 10th month in a row it has exceeded its monthly target.
But the Army partly owes its success in reaching those goals to the fact that it reduced its monthly targets for six of the first eight months of fiscal 2006. That means most of its recruiting must occur from June through September, when the monthly goals are all much higher than last year’s.
The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy made their March goals, as did the part-time Army National Guard. But the part-time Army Reserve fell short of its quota and now trailed its year-to-date target.
CONFIDENT OF REACHING GOAL
The Army said in a statement its leaders remained confident of achieving the 80,000 goal for the year.
Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said it was not a worry that the Army was lagging behind last year’s numbers. The Army made the 2006 summer monthly goals bigger to take advantage of recruiting opportunities once students finish high school and college academic years, he said.
“The summer months will be critical to achieving the annual goal of 80,000,” Smith said.
The Army Reserve, a force that can be summoned by the Pentagon to active-duty from civilian life in times of need, got 2,261 recruits in March, below its goal of 2,534. The Army Reserve, aiming to get 36,032 recruits this year, is now 387 short of its goal of 13,781 recruits through March.
The Army has taken steps to try to improve recruiting, including raising the maximum age for enlistment, offering financial incentives, adding recruiters and hiring a new advertising agency. Last month it said it had relaxed its ban on certain types of tattoos to attract recruits who otherwise would have been disqualified from serving.
“I think it’s just too early to tell how much a problem they have and whether they’ve actually turned the corner,” Goure said.
Fiscal 2005 was one of the poorest recruiting years for the Army since the start of the all-volunteer military in 1973 during the tumult of the Vietnam War era. Some analysts have said if the Army cannot attract enough recruits, the United States might have to consider reinstating the draft.
© 2006 Reuters