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Army Still Behind in Recruiting

War, Lower Unemployment Cutting Into Pool of Enlistees

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page A17

The active-duty Army is forecast to miss its recruiting targets again in March and April, as the prospect of combat-zone deployments in Iraq discourages American youths -- and adults who advise them -- from considering military service.

The Army expects to fall short of its targeted number of recruits, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey told reporters yesterday, confirming the likely continuation of a trend that began in February when the active-duty Army missed its monthly goal for the first time since 2000. Last week, Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the Army's personnel chief, said in congressional testimony that "monthly recruiting figures from March and April will be difficult to achieve."

Francis J. Harvey, who became secretary of the Army in November, said of the branch's recruiting problems: "Are we concerned? Absolutely, I'm very concerned. But I'm not going to give up." (Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)

As the Iraq war, coupled with lower unemployment, creates one of the toughest recruiting environments in years, Army leaders are struggling to come up with innovative ways to reverse the trend of insufficient enlistees, which threatens core assumptions about the all-volunteer force.

"Are we concerned? Absolutely, I'm very concerned," Harvey said at his first Pentagon news conference since assuming his job in November. "But I'm not going to give up."

Harvey voiced cautious optimism that the active-duty Army, which had 94 percent of its year-to-date goal in February, would achieve its target of 80,000 recruits by September, as would the Army Reserve. He and other leaders expressed doubt, however, that the Army National Guard, at 75 percent of its year-to-date goal, would fulfill its manpower requirement this year.

Harvey dismissed the idea that the Pentagon would institute a draft, bursting into laughter when a reporter posed the question.

"The D-word is the farthest thing from my thoughts," he said.

He also said he knows of no plans by the military to lift the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gay men and lesbians serving in the armed forces. The number of service members discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" rule has fallen steeply since 2001. The Sept. 11 attacks began a period of unprecedented deployments.

"I know of no move along these lines. No move at all," he said.

Instead, Army leaders will increasingly appeal to patriotism to sway wavering parents and drum up recruits, Harvey said. He said he intends to launch a national grass-roots campaign in which senior Army leaders and civilian staff, as well as members of Congress, will make speeches in communities about "the value of serving the nation, the noble calling."

"It's going to be more at the Rotary Club. It's going to be more at the Kiwanis Club. It's going to be out there in the heartland," he said.

This "national call to service" reflects a growing belief among Army leaders that traditional methods of boosting enlistment -- increasing bonuses and college funds, advertising campaigns and additional recruiters -- can go only so far in persuading young people to make the sacrifices required by joining the military.

"I don't think money at the end of the day will solve all of the recruiting issues," Gen. Richard A. Cody said this month at a hearing on readiness held by a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Nevertheless, Pentagon officials in charge of recruiting are seeking new authority to grant lump-sum payments, saying those types of bonuses particularly appeal to 18- and 19-year-olds.

"They value money now. . . . They like present compensation over deferred compensation," Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel last week.

The Marine Corps also failed for the first time in nearly a decade to attain its "contracting mission" for January and February, as the number of people who signed contracts slipped. But it has continued to meet what it considers more important monthly targets for shipping recruits to boot camp, and it is confident of meeting its recruiting goal this year, Lt. Gen. H.P. Osman, the Marine Corps recruiting chief, told the House personnel panel.

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