By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
The Army announced yesterday that it met its stated recruiting goal of 80,000 new active-duty soldiers for fiscal 2007, but senior Army and Defense Department officials said the service fell short of a larger internal goal of several thousand more troops necessary to expand the size of the overall force.
Moreover, to meet its 80,000-troop goal, the Army rushed enlistees into its ranks more quickly than usual, depleting the number in the pipeline for next year to less than 7,000 -- the smallest in more than a decade. That portends an even tougher recruiting year in 2008, said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, head of the Army's Accession Command.
"It's a very difficult environment" for recruiting and 2008 will be "a challenge," Freakley said. The Iraq war is unpopular, with parents and mentors increasingly worried about the dangers of combat. As a result, young people are less likely to serve, Freakley told defense reporters.
The heavy demand for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is putting pressure on the Army to grow more quickly. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday that as the United States withdraws about 21,700 combat troops from Iraq by July, the requirement for support forces could increase. Support troops include U.S. military teams that train Iraqi forces and work on reconstruction.
In the coming year, U.S. troops will pull out of Iraqi cities as security conditions permit but will remain in a "tactical overwatch" position, enabling them to intervene if violence escalates beyond what Iraqi forces can handle alone, Odierno said in a news conference at the National Press Club. He predicted that U.S. forces would not transition to that status in Baghdad until the end of 2008.
U.S. commanders have not yet announced where in Iraq they will reduce combat forces, but Odierno said one area he is considering is the western province of Anbar. Violence in Anbar has dropped sharply as Sunni tribes have joined U.S. forces to fight insurgents. The number of attacks in the province fell from 350 per week a year ago to 37 last week, Odierno said.
"If things continue the way they are in Anbar, I think we have the opportunity to reduce some force structure in Anbar," he said.
The Pentagon this year approved a plan to increase the Army's active-duty strength to 547,000 by 2012, up from the current 519,000. That would enable the Army to add six combat brigades to the current 38, and a number of support units. Last week, Army Secretary Pete Geren said the Army seeks to accomplish that growth in only four years, through recruiting and retention.
But the Army, which brought in about 80,400 active-duty soldiers for fiscal 2007, which ended Sept. 30, has struggled to meet the larger internal goal of 83,000 to 86,000 recruits set by Army officials seeking to expand the force.
The service missed its monthly targets in May and June, in part because budget cuts reduced its recruiting force. To reverse the trend, the Army began sending enlistees more quickly to basic training, consuming the pool of recruits in reserve for next year. "The Army is shipping most recruits within 30 days of signing their contracts," said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's director for accessions.
As a result, the pool for the new fiscal year will have only about 6,500 to 7,000 enlistees, or less than 9 percent of the overall recruiting mission for 2008 and much less than the 35 percent that is standard for the Army, Freakley said.
The Army hopes to gain 1,500 to 2,000 recruits next year through a new program known as "Active First," in which National Guard members are paid to bring in new recruits who will serve two to three years on active duty and the remainder of their time in the guard.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.