By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The U.S. Army fell short of its active-duty recruiting goal for June by about 15 percent, defense officials said yesterday. It is the second consecutive month the service's enlistment effort has faltered amid the American public's growing discontent over the war in Iraq.
Army officials confirmed yesterday that the service missed its June target -- the first time its recruiters have missed their monthly mark twice in a row since they were hit hard in 2005 -- but declined to discuss specific numbers before a scheduled release today. Three defense officials said the Army fell short by about 1,400 soldiers, well shy of its goal of 8,400 for June.
Because recruiters consistently exceeded their targets throughout the first half of fiscal 2007, the Army still remains above its year-to-date goal by about 700 recruits.
July, August and September are traditionally the best months for military recruiters, and this year the Army hopes to take in more than a third of its expected 80,000 new recruits in that period. According to Army recruiting statistics, the service aims for 28,850 new soldiers between now and the end of the fiscal year in September -- an average of more than 9,600 each month.
"To date, we're still ahead for the year," said Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "Obviously, we're concerned, but we're not panicking. We are ahead for the year, and we're just going to have to work hard to make our numbers."
The Army has met its recruiting numbers in the past two years by mobilizing a larger force of recruiters, offering higher incentives to join and broadening its potential pool by offering waivers -- for physical conditions and violating the law -- to people who normally would not qualify.
Mirroring concerns in 2005, when the Army fell thousands short of its monthly goals during much of the year, defense officials said that a good economy and lack of encouragement for military service from parents, coaches and other "influencers" have caused the recruiting slump. The Iraq war's sharp decline in popularity has also made recruiting far more difficult, as many recruits almost certainly will deploy to the battlefield.
"If you don't think that's affecting the influencers, then you have your head under a rock," said one Pentagon official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the June numbers have not yet been released.
Pentagon officials acknowledge that the coming months will be challenging because the potential recruit market is difficult and they did not anticipate the Army's total slipping as much as it did in June.
Service officials, however, are encouraged by steady retention rates in the active-duty Army and the Army Reserve and point to successes earlier in the year as evidence that the numbers can recover this summer. The Army recruited 9,309 new soldiers in January, nearly 1,000 more than its goal.
Edwin Dorn, a former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness who is now with the University of Texas, said the Army has always had more trouble recruiting than other services, and he noted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make it far harder.
"To me, the big surprise is that Army recruiting has remained as healthy as it has been, given the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war," Dorn said. "The mystery is not why they are falling short; to me, it's how they have succeeded as well."
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.