Congress, in its latest defense authorization bill, said the Army must reduce its size to 520,000 active duty men and women by 1995, not 1991 as reported yesterday. The 1991 target was set at 702,170. (Published 11/29/90)

The armed forces are finding it more difficult to sign up recruits as America prepares for a possible war against Iraq, Pentagon officials and recruiters said yesterday.

The most dramatic drop has occurred in the Army, where the number of recruits since the invasion began in August is down an average 30 percent -- or more than 7,500 soldiers -- from the same period last year. While some of the shrinkage had been expected and can be explained as part of a planned cutback of the service, much of the falloff is being blamed on fear among Americans of going to war in the Middle East.

As the Persian Gulf crisis intensifies, Army officials report they are falling far short of projected monthly recruitment targets -- off 28 percent in September, 24 percent in October and 32 percent so far this month. And the trend is expected to worsen.

"The crisis is making it harder to recruit because people don't want to go to war," said Sgt. Thomas Risher, supervisor of six Army recruiters in Fairfax County.

Officials in the other services speak of similar difficulty in attracting recruits. "It has a lot to do with what's going on in the gulf," said a Navy recruiter in Maryland who did not want to be named. "We're getting some gung-ho people, but other people are scared."

An Air Force recruiter in the Washington area, when asked how his efforts were going, said, "Business? What business?"

Army figures suggest there was a short burst of rallying around the flag in August when President Bush sent the first troops to the gulf to force Iraqi troops from Kuwait. But many teenagers have since had second thoughts about joining the service when confronted with the increasing likelihood of a war against Iraq, and parents have grown more fearful of having their children enlist.

"It would be difficult to conceive of any other influence than the Persian Gulf that would have this effect on recruiting," said Martin Binkin, a military troop strength expert at the Brookings Institution. "The implications are that if we get in a protracted engagement or heavy casualties, you're going to have even more trouble recruiting volunteers."

Brig. Gen. Theodore Glen Stroup Jr., the Army's military personnel director, acknowledged yesterday that "anxiety is up in the field." He said the Army still has plenty of high-quality recruits to fill ranks and is not worried about the immediate effect of the recruiting shortfall. But the longer term picture is of concern, the one-star general said in an interview.

"I'm concerned because I don't know what's happening out there, and I don't know whether it is an aberration that has some parallel to earlier years or whether it is a harbinger for what is to come," he said.

Stroup said he and fellow personnel chiefs are trying to satisfy congressional demands to reduce the Army while meeting the expanding demands of the Persian Gulf crisis without handicapping the rest of the force left home for other contingencies. In a quick-fix move adopted last week to shore up the ranks, the Army froze officers and enlisted personnel in their jobs, prohibiting soldiers from leaving the service even if they were due to retire or complete their term of enlistment. "How the freeze will affect recruiting is another one of our unknowns," one recruiting official said. "A kid signing up for two years now doesn't know whether it will be two years or not."

For the longer term, Army executives are pressing Pentagon leaders to ask Congress to ease up on orders to shrink the Army. Congress instructed the Army to have no more than 702,170 men and women on active duty by the end of this fiscal year and keep paring this number until it drops to 520,000 by the end of fiscal 1991. Troop strength last week totaled 730,252. The strains of meeting the manpower needs of the gulf crisis are being cited by Army officials seeking a higher ceiling.

While reducing the Army's size, Congress also has slashed the Army's advertising budget used to attract volunteers. The budget was cut from $63 million in fiscal 1990 to $36 million this year. Moreover, the number of recruiters was reduced from 5,500 to 4,700.

Stroup said recruiting ads appearing on television and in the press are being financed from last year's budget. The impact of the new cuts will not be felt until January.

As Stroup ponders the troop strength problems that would be generated by a shooting war in the gulf, the general said he is worried about the possibility that a disproportionate number of blacks will be killed or wounded. This is because about 30 percent of the Army is black, while 13 percent of the population is black.

In recruiting, the Army issues monthly computer projections for recruiters to try to fill. The projections make allowances for such factors as national unemployment rates and advertising, which varies from period to period. But the projections for this autumn did not have the gulf crisis factored in.

Here are the numbers of male volunteers the Army expected to sign up this autumn and last on the basis of the computerized projections, and the number of men who actually volunteered:

August 1989: projected 7,334 vs. 7,545 actual;

August 1990: projected 5,596 vs. 6,070 actual;

September 1989: projected 7,266 vs. 6,766 actual;

September 1990: projected 7,347 vs. 5,260 actual;

October 1989: projected 10,206 vs. 9,449 actual;

October 1990: projected 8,311 vs. 6,327 actual;

November 1989: projected 6,827 vs. 7,030 actual;

November 1990: projected 6,022 vs. 4,103 actual.

Since August, when U.S. forces were sent to the Persian Gulf region, the number of men volunteering has fallen sharply below Army projections. This chart compares the number of men the Army anticipated it would sign up June through November 1990 with the number that actually enlisted.

..........Number.......Number......Number.....Percentage

..........Enlisted....Targeted.....Enlisted...Difference

............1989........1990.........1990....From Target

June.......6,832.......5,680........5,744......+1%

July.......8,308.......6,526........6,755......+4%

August.....7,545.......5,596........6,070......+8%

September..6,766.......7,347........5,260.... -28%

October....9,449.......8,311........6,327.... -24%

November...7,030.......6,022........4,103.... -32%

SOURCE: U.S. Army