With a $42 billion package of pay raises and bonuses about to go into effect, unexpectedly high numbers of soldiers have reenlisted in the Army in the past year, offsetting severe recruitment problems and averting a manpower crisis, according to Pentagon statistics to be made public today.
The Air Force, however, came up 5,000 people short of its personnel projections for the past year, showing that the military is still struggling with unfavorable demographic trends and competition from a booming civilian economy, Pentagon officials said.
Often considered the most glamorous of the armed services, the Air Force sets the highest academic requirements for its recruits and had long attracted all the volunteers it needed without paying for television advertising. During the past year, it bought commercials for the first time, yet still missed its enlistment target of 33,800 recruits by 5 percent. Air Force retention of enlisted personnel was off by a similar measure.
Military manpower numbers for fiscal 1999, which ended Sept. 30, are due to be released today as President Clinton goes to the Pentagon to sign legislation authorizing the pay raises and bonuses. The higher compensation is designed primarily to retain officers, senior enlisted personnel and individuals with special skills such as pilots, nuclear engineers and lawyers. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is reevaluating the tactics it uses to lure recruits and has discovered that it has failed to make proper use of basic advertising tools.
A recently concluded review of recruitment advertising found that the military often did not adequately track cultural changes in its target audience--Americans age 18 to 23--and shifts in the labor market produced by an economy with a seemingly insatiable demand for new workers. Conducted by two political consultants, Carter D. Eskew, a Democrat, and Michael R. Murphy, a Republican, the study called for improved research and marketing efforts, including advertising aimed not directly at potential recruits but at their "influencers," such as parents, teachers and counselors.
"We realize now that ever since the draw-down in military strength that began at the end of the Cold War in 1989, we have not kept up with the fact that the environment is different and that the kids are different," said Rudy de Leon, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Young people, he said, now have numerous options for financing a college education, and high school graduates with skills have little problem finding good jobs. Moreover, with the advent of the Internet and cable television, reaching that audience has become more complicated.
The review emphasized the need for better marketing to communicate the armed services' missions in the absence of a "clear and present threat" of the sort once posed by the Soviet Union.
The Marine Corps is considered a singular success in achieving these goals, and it consistently meets or surpasses its recruitment and retention goals.
"The Marines are selling intangibles--self-esteem, leadership--and that obviously appeals to young people," de Leon said. By contrast, he noted that Army advertising emphasizes the educational benefits available to soldiers, such as the ability to learn technical skills or to earn college money.
Over the past year the Army missed its target of 74,500 recruits by 6,300 but made up most of the shortfall because it exceeded its reenlistment goal of 65,000 by almost an equal number. The Navy, which was recovering from a recruitment shortfall last year, nearly made all its goals.
The prospect of salary increases that will be spread out over six years, along with immediate bonuses, clearly is helping retention. "Throughout the year troops followed the proposal very carefully as it went through the budget process," de Leon said, noting that an unusually large number of soldiers and sailors chose short-term extensions of their enlistments, apparently to see whether Congress would approve the pay raises. As it turned out, Congress added $7 billion to the administration's $35 billion proposal.
Because of low birthrates in the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the number of Americans of recruiting age is as small as it has ever been in the 25-year history of all-volunteer armed forces. "Recruiting is going to be difficult until we get into the middle of the next decade, when the pool of young people increases again," de Leon said.
Filling the Ranks
While the Army missed its fiscal 1999 recruitment goal, it retained more enlisted personnel than expected, making up for much of the shortfall.
SOURCE: Defense Department