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Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military

The active-duty Army and Marine Corps, and five of six reserve components of the military, all failed to meet at least some recruiting goals in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, according to Defense Department statistics. The active-duty shortfalls came amid rising concern among Army and Marine officials that their services risk missing annual recruiting quotas for the first time this decade.

Shelley, for example, has signed up four people in nearly six months, despite working 16-hour days. Asked why recruiting is so difficult, he has a quick reply: "The war."


Marine Sgt. Andrew Mrozik, left, and Staff Sgt. Jody Van Doorenmaalen talk with a potential recruit at a high school in Algonquin, Ill. Military recruiters say they find it increasingly difficult to meet goals for new service members. (Jeff Roberson -- AP)

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Increasingly, surveys show that the main reason young American adults avoid military service is that they -- and to a greater degree their parents -- fear that enlisting could mean a war-zone deployment and death or injury. One survey showed such fears nearly doubling among respondents from 2000 to 2004.

Indeed, today's recruiting problems reflect a widespread concern dating from the conception of the all-volunteer force in 1973 -- that a military composed wholly of volunteers would not supply adequate troops for a lengthy ground war.

But confidence in the force has since grown as it gained discipline and professionalism. Meanwhile, overseas missions proliferated, even as the military downsized drastically. The Army shrank from 40 active-duty and National Guard divisions during the Vietnam War to 28 when the Cold War ended, and it has 18 now.

The military is seeking to rebuild forces, adding temporarily 30,000 Army soldiers and 5,000 Marines. But the war isn't the only obstacle. Rising college attendance and an expanding job market are giving high school graduates more choices. "It's times like this when unemployment is reaching 5 percent that is a critical level" for undercutting recruitment, said Curtis L. Gilroy, director of accession policy for the Defense Department.

To meet its targets, the Army is considering expanding the use of enlistment bonuses of as much as $20,000. Both the Army and the Marines are adding hundreds of recruiters, who "will have to work very, very hard," Gilroy said.

Shelley's situation exemplifies the pressure on today's recruiters. Up at 6:30, he consults his "plan of attack," a white sheet of paper on which he pencils in his activities by the hour. At lunchtime, he hits fast-food restaurants. When school lets out at 2:45, he starts calling potential recruits at home. In early evening, he goes to gas stations or the 7-Eleven, scouting for youths with "less desirable" jobs. At night, he is out "AC-ing," or "area canvassing," until 10:30.

Palming the steering wheel of his steel-gray Dodge Stratus one night, Shelley cruises slowly past a Chick-fil-A. Scanning the cars, he estimates who's in the restaurant and whether it's worth going in. It's not.

He makes one last, failed pitch of the day -- to an overweight young man stacking tomatoes at Giant -- and heads home. As long as the war drags on, recruiting won't improve, he predicts. "I think it's going to get worse."

Growing Demands

As the military struggles to find fresh recruits, there is unprecedented strain on service members and their families.

Since 2001, the U.S. military has deployed more than 1 million troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 341,000, or nearly a third, serving two or more overseas tours.

Today, an entrenched insurgency in Iraq ties down 150,000 U.S. troops, inflicting upwards of 1,500 deaths so far -- more than 10 times the number killed in the major combat operations that President Bush declared ended on May 1, 2003.

Because of the spreading violence from the insurgency, coupled with a smaller foreign coalition than was hoped for, the U.S. Army and Marines in particular have scrambled to keep a force of roughly 17 brigades in Iraq until now, rather than draw down to eight brigades or even be out altogether, according to previous military projections.


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