By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The U.S. Army announced yesterday that it exceeded its July goal for active-duty recruiting after two months of falling short, the same day the White House war czar said in a radio interview that he believes it makes sense militarily to consider a draft as an option for relieving war-related stresses on U.S. forces.
Though Bush administration officials and U.S. military leaders have long shunned the notion of reinstating a draft, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, Bush's top military adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said yesterday that the draft has "always been an option on the table" and that it "makes sense to certainly consider it."
In an interview on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Lute said the military is competing for a "very narrow slice" of high school graduates and that the draft is one of several options to prevent the military from breaking.
"Today, the current means of the all-volunteer force is serving us exceptionally well," Lute said. "It would be a major policy shift, not actually a military but a political policy shift, to move to some other course."
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Lute's comments were consistent with President Bush's stated policy in regard to any potential use of the draft. "The president believes an all-volunteer military serves the country well, and there is no discussion of returning to a draft," Johndroe said.
The comments followed a U.S. Army announcement that it had surpassed its recruiting target for July by about 2 percent, pulling nearly 10,000 new soldiers into the service last month despite what Army officials describe as one of the most difficult recruiting environments in history.
The successful month came after the Army missed its goals for both May and June by a combined total of more than 1,750, a downturn that appeared to threaten the Army's effort to recruit 80,000 new soldiers this year. But the July turnaround, which the Army announced yesterday, is an indication that its new recruiting initiatives could help the service meet high summer goals before the end of the fiscal year.
Army officials announced that recruiters successfully brought in 9,973 new recruits in July -- 223 more than the month's goal of 9,750, the highest monthly goal of the year. The Army is now about 1,000 recruits above its year-to-date goal but still hopes to recruit another 18,136 by October.
"The year-end goal is our focus," said Maj. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon. "These are the three largest months we recruit, and they are tough months. We have tough goals ahead, but we've put in place what we believe will help achieve these goals."
The American public's growing disapproval for the war in Iraq has complicated the Army's efforts to attract new soldiers who know they probably will be deployed quickly to an overseas war zone. As the Bush administration's war strategy has pushed more than 162,000 troops into Iraq amid possible 15-month tours, officials say it is increasingly difficult to sell the service to young volunteers and the parents, coaches and teachers that influence their lives.
New to the Army recruiters' tool kit is a "quick-ship" cash bonus of $20,000 that goes to recruits who are willing to go to basic training by the end of September. Army officials said the bonuses began July 25 and that it is too early to know their influence, but they hope they will push some recruits to enter the Army sooner than they had planned, boosting numbers for the end of the year.
Other bonuses have been raised, including a maximum $20,000 cash bonus to recruits who want to sign up for a two-year enlistment, a bonus that has been raised twice this year, from an original bonus of $6,000 before May.
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army's Recruiting Command, said yesterday that the Army is also pushing more recruiters into the field to augment the 8,300 currently working full time. Army officials have asked former recruiters now in different roles to take temporary assignments in their old jobs and are offering them $2,000 bonuses for each soldier they enlist.
The Army also is asking nearly 5,000 newly trained soldiers to return to their communities to talk up their first months in the service and dispel myths about basic training, and is offering them cash bonuses if they succeed in bringing in new recruits.
"We want them to go and talk amongst their friends about how the training went," Smith said. "That way we're getting a motivated, fresh, young soldier out there talking up the Army."
Before May, the Army had met its monthly goals going back almost two years, and it exceeded its goal of 80,000 recruits for the 2006 fiscal year by 635 soldiers. Pentagon officials announced yesterday that the other military services' active-duty recruiting also met or exceeded goals for the month of July.
Staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.