Army Aims to Catch Up on Recruits in Summer

Staff Sgt. Stephen Pate, left, and Sgt. Mark Ward recruit in Hays, Kan. Enlistment often peaks during the summer.
Staff Sgt. Stephen Pate, left, and Sgt. Mark Ward recruit in Hays, Kan. Enlistment often peaks during the summer. (By Jamie Roper -- Hays Daily News Via Associated Press)
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Army announced yesterday that it missed its recruiting goal for the fourth consecutive month, a deepening manpower crisis that officials said would require a dramatic summer push for recruits if the service is to avoid missing its annual enlistment target for the first time since 1999.

The Army will make a "monumental effort" to bring in the average 10,000 recruits a month required this summer, said Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, head of the Army's recruiting command. An additional 500 active-duty recruiters will be added in the next two months -- on top of an increase of 1,000 earlier this year.

The Pentagon is also considering asking Congress to double the enlistment bonus it can offer to the most-prized recruits -- from $20,000 to $40,000 -- and to raise the age limit for Army active-duty service from 35 to 40, he said.

"The challenge is one of historic proportions," Rochelle said, acknowledging that he is not sure whether the traditional summer surge in Army recruits will take place, or how large it might be.

Violent, long deployments to Iraq and a sound job market at home have combined to reduce what the Army calls the "propensity to enlist" -- the percentage of young Americans willing to consider Army service -- which dropped from 11 percent last year to about 7 percent this year.

"What I don't know, in all candor, is how the reduced propensity will dampen" the recruiting prospects of summer, Rochelle said in an interview. "I wish the summer period were about twice as long."

The Army's recruiting difficulties are only expected to grow. "Next year promises quite frankly, given the size of our entry pool, to be an even tougher fight," he said. "God forbid a downward trend" in the willingness to serve, he added.

The Army missed its May active-duty recruiting goal of 6,700 by 1,661 recruits, pushing the shortfall for fiscal 2005 to 8,321 -- or more than a month's worth of recruits. The shortfall would have been 37 percent if the Army had not lowered its May goal. Overall, the Army has sent 40,964 enlistees to boot camp, and has four months to nearly double that figure to reach the 80,000 goal for this fiscal year.

Army, Navy and Marine Corps reserve forces also missed their goals for May. Army National Guard enlistments for the month fell short by 29 percent, Army Reserves by 18 percent, Marine Corps Reserves by 12 percent and Navy Reserves by 4 percent, according to figures released yesterday by the Pentagon.

The Army is struggling the most, as it provides the bulk of the forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is working to increase in size to 512,000 by adding 30,000 troops to fill 10 new brigades.

The sluggish flow of enlistments means that Army boot camps are less than half full -- training at 46 percent of their capacity this month, compared with 91 percent in May 2004, said Harvey Perritt, spokesman for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. For example, the Army's infantry training center at Fort Benning, Ga., had by May trained only 8,700 of its fiscal year goal of 24,500 infantrymen.

The Army can meet its goals only with a "massive influx of recruits" to boot camp this summer, Perritt said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company