The Army will begin a test next year to see if a one-year cut in the minimum enlistment and increased educational benefits will attract more high-quality male volunteers.
Officials, who declined to be identified, say the Army will try to determine the ease of recruiting about 12,500 men for a shorter hitch than the current three-year commitment. The test will be limited to male volunteers because, as one official said, "we get plenty of women" for three-and four- year enlistments.
A key feature will be increased government aid in financing college education or other training after the volunteers lea ve service. The Veterans Administration now will pay $2 in educational benefits for every $1 contributed by a service member who enlisted after Jan. 1, 1977.
As officials explained it, men who sign up under the Army's test program for two-year enlistments will get additional upspecified government contributions to their post-service education costs.
The test follows a Defense Department order to all the armed services to study the possibility of reducing minimum enlistment time to improve the quality of volunteers, fill gaps in combat units and shorten overseas tours. The Navy was believed to be working on a possible two-year enlistment plan and the Marines were said to be interested in a similar program.
Defense officials said the Air Force is not interested in lowering its minimum enlistments because "the Air Force gets all the people it wants."
The Defense Defense Department's interest in two-year enlistments represent a reversal from its attitude three years ago. At the time, minimum enlistments were set at three years because officials felt there was too high a turnover rate under the two-year enlistment system and because training costs were higher as a result.
Under the Army test, defense officials said, some of the 12,500 two-year volunteers will be earmarked for service in Germany. In this way, said, it may be possible to shorten tours of duty in Europe to about 18 months for some single servicemen.
Army commanders in Europe in have reported increasing dissatisfaction with longer European Tours, particularly among single enlisted men.