By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The Army surpassed its active-duty recruiting goal for August by more than 5 percent, using higher enlistment bonuses and additional recruiters to turn around an early summer slump that threatened the service's fiscal year goal of 80,000 by the end of September.
Army data obtained by The Washington Post show that the Army recruited 10,128 new troops in August, 528 more than the monthly goal of 9,600. Last month's recruiting total -- aided by a new $20,000 "quick ship" bonus that spurs people to leave for basic training within 30 days -- was the largest monthly total this fiscal year. The Army will now need to recruit about 8,000 people this month to meet its goal for the year.
Army officials declined to discuss the August numbers, pending an official Defense Department announcement that normally comes on the 10th of the month. Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, head of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that he could not reveal the August total, saying only: "We had a very good month of August."
It was good for the Army in part, Bostick said, because of the success of the quick-ship bonus, which has been available to almost all new recruits since July 25 and may have encouraged people who were "on the fence" about joining the Army to enlist in recent weeks. He said it is possible that the Army will extend the bonus.
According to Army recruiting data for late July and early August, the quick-ship bonus was extremely popular, with more than 90 percent of new recruits accepting the money in exchange for leaving their homes almost immediately. Bostick said that about 400 recruits who had been scheduled to leave in September opted instead to leave last month to pocket the bonus.
Bostick said many "future soldiers" would normally leave for basic training within 30 days of signing their contracts. Quick-ship bonuses traditionally have been offered only to select candidates for jobs the Army is looking to fill, but enlistments have risen since the bonus was offered to nearly everyone, Bostick said. He also knocked down the idea that new recruits are being rushed off to war.
"We're not quick-shipping to get these guys into boots and to have them ship off to Iraq," Bostick said. He said new recruits go through their advanced individual training after basic training and then disperse to the Army's divisions around the world, not necessarily to divisions that are deploying.
The Army had been regularly meeting its monthly recruiting goals until the service missed its active-duty targets in May and June, prompting new initiatives aimed at boosting Army enlistments amid one of the most difficult recruiting environments in the history of the all-volunteer Army. Because the Army has stringent qualification standards and must compete in the open market for soldiers, the effort encounters difficulties during good economic times and during protracted wars, when potential recruits realize they could be deployed to a fight.
Particularly troubling to the Army is the declining perceptions of the "influencers" -- such as parents, coaches and teachers -- who are increasingly discouraging young people from joining the military as a career. Bostick said the willingness of mothers to send their children to the Army has dropped from 40 percent in March 2004 to 25 percent now, according to Army data, while the willingness of fathers has dropped from 50 percent to 33 percent over the same period.
The Army continues to try to reach influencers while also making aggressive efforts to reach out to young people directly. Bostick said he considers the Army not just an all-volunteer Army but nearly an all-recruited Army.
"Not many folks are just walking into the recruiting station saying this is what they want to do," Bostick said. Later, he added: "This is not just a challenge for the Army; it's a challenge for the nation."
Also worrisome for the Army is the dropping desire of young adults to serve in the military. Bostick said that 20 years ago, approximately 25 percent of people ages 17 to 24 showed a desire to serve in the military, a figure that has dropped to 15.7 percent today.