The Army is expected to meet or exceed its monthly recruiting goal for August but is likely to miss its annual goal for the fiscal year that ends next month amid one of the most difficult recruiting environments since it became an all-volunteer force, the Army's chief of staff said yesterday.
Should the Army meet its goal of recruiting about 10,000 new active-duty troops this month, it will be the third consecutive month in which the service succeeded after several months of significantly missing its mark. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker told reporters yesterday that he expects the Army to miss its annual goal of 80,000 new active-duty recruits by "a couple thousand," adding that he expects recruiting in September and during the next fiscal year to be "difficult."
Through the end of July, the Army was on pace to miss its annual goal by more than 10 percent. It raised the target in fiscal 2005 as part of a long-term effort to expand the force by 30,000 troops, to a total of 512,000.
In fiscal 2004 the Army set a goal of 72,000 new recruits, but it may not meet even that benchmark this year. Schoomaker said the Army needs at least 72,000 troops to sustain the current force.
"What this really means is we are not building the 30,000 as fast as we'd like to," he said. "None of us see it as that dire."
Recruiting has become more difficult over the past year as public attitudes about the war in Iraq have shifted and as those the Army calls "influencers" -- such as parents and coaches -- are less frequently suggesting the military as an option for young Americans. Schoomaker said the Army's main pool for recruitment amounts to about 15 percent of American men age 17 to 24, because health, educational and other issues, including criminal records, make many ineligible to serve.
Schoomaker said recruiting problems are offset by high retention among active divisions, especially in units that have served or are serving in Iraq. He said the Army has exceeded its personnel retention goal by 9 percent, with soldiers in the Third Infantry Division -- now on its second tour in Iraq -- reenlisting at 112 percent of the goal. The First Cavalry Division has the highest reenlistment rate, at 138 percent of the goal, according to the Army. All 10 of the Army's divisions are surpassing retention estimates.
"The Army is a long way from being broken," Schoomaker said. "And we're not on the path to breaking it."
Pentagon officials say the United States can sustain the war in Iraq long enough to hand over control to Iraqi security forces, which are growing in number and capability but cannot secure the nation on their own. Army officials are planning for future U.S. troop rotations into Iraq and have drawn up scenarios that would keep significant U.S. forces there through 2009.
But those plans, which are based on a worst-case scenario, are in flux as commanders evaluate the situation on the ground. Schoomaker said that it is unlikely there will be more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq four years from now but that Army officials have to look at all possibilities.
"Our intention is to reduce forces over there as the situation improves," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this week that 1,000 to 2,000 additional U.S. personnel will be sent to Iraq to help with security for the constitutional referendum scheduled for Oct. 15, in part because of expectations that violence could increase as voters head to the polls.
The increase would raise U.S. troop levels from about 138,000 to close to 140,000. There are also more than 20,000 coalition troops in Iraq supporting the effort.
Pentagon officials said that about 1,500 soldiers with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division had been notified that their two battalions will be mobilized soon. Pentagon officials also plan to overlap the next rotation of U.S. forces into Iraq with outgoing troops, as they did earlier this year for the Iraqi elections, to protect elections scheduled for mid-December.
That plan could increase U.S. force levels temporarily to about 160,000, which would amount to the equivalent of an extra division for several weeks.