Army, in need, raises bonuses

Long deployments, better economy rouse recruitment concerns

`Plenty tough to meet the quotas'

Priority jobs get $15,000, double the previous high

August 05, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Concerned that long deployments and an improving economy may thin its ranks, the Army announced yesterday that it is offering some prospective recruits up to $15,000 to enlist for three years - more than double the previous maximum bonus - and hiring 300 more civilian recruiters to persuade them to join the service.

"It's got to be plenty tough out there to meet the quotas," said retired Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, who stepped down this year as the officer in charge of building an Army for the future. "If it wasn't, we wouldn't be paying all these bonuses."

Although the active-duty Army is slightly exceeding its recruiting goals, officials said, the service is also temporarily increasing the size of the force by 30,000 soldiers over the next several years. To meet the increased need, Army officials have been forced to dip early into a pool of recruits who were scheduled to undergo basic training next year.

The Army previously offered a maximum bonus of $6,000 for a recruit who signed up for three years. That maximum has been raised to $10,000 for most Army jobs and $15,000 if the recruit signs up for certain high-priority positions, such as a fire-support specialist, petroleum supply specialist or food service operations, according to the Army Recruiting Command.

Two new bonuses are aimed at men and women with post-high school education. Graduates of four-year colleges can pick up $8,000 for enlisting; those from two-year colleges, $7,000. Riggs said such moves reflect competition among the services for high-quality recruits.

In a news release, the Army said it would offer up to $6,000 for enlisting in "critical jobs" and $3,000 for "civilian skills that the Army needs," though it provided no immediate explanation of either category.

In addition, the Army will add about 300 civilian recruiters to the Army recruiting force of about 5,000, "so we can return more [uniformed] recruiters to the field," said Doug Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, told reporters two weeks ago that the Army was at 101 percent of its recruiting goal.

"Recruiting and retention are the way we man the force, and we're watching these closely," he said. "Recruiting in the active component is currently on glide path for the fiscal year 2004 mission."

Higher goal for '04

Initially, the Army's recruiting goal was 72,500 for 2004, but the number was raised to 77,000 to temporarily bolster the 480,000- soldier force by 30,000 to handle overseas missions, principally in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For fiscal year 2005, which begins Oct. 1, the Army's goal will be about 80,000 recruits, Smith said.

To meet the higher recruitment goal this year, the Army was forced to take soldiers from a pool of recruits - participants in its Delayed Entry Program - who were not scheduled to report to basic training until 2005.

The Army likes to have about 35 percent of that pool on hand on Oct. 1, meaning that more than one-third of the recruiting goal has been met when the fiscal year begins. That pool is now at about 23 percent, the lowest in three years, officials said.

More recruiters

In his meeting with reporters two weeks ago, Schoomaker noted the lower numbers in the Delayed Entry Program and hinted that the Army would have to do more to increase recruiting.

"We're increasing the number of recruiters on the street and taking a look at our incentive programs to be able to build up that [pool] again," he said. "We're looking at specific targeted incentives that make sense."

Smith said the coming year would be a tough one for recruiting, given the improving U.S. economy and the strain of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the lower numbers of recruits in the Delayed Entry Program.

Guard recruiting off

While the Army and Army Reserve are slightly exceeding their recruitment goals, the National Guard is now at about 88 percent of its 2004 goal, said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Blum, appearing with Schoomaker two weeks ago, said recruiting is off because the goal purposely was set high. The Guard expected that it would have to recruit more soldiers because it assumed that more of its part-time soldiers would leave, given how busy the Guard has been supporting U.S. operations overseas.

"We are re-enlisting soldiers or they're staying with us at an unprecedented rate," he said. "And we didn't adjust our recruiting goal."

Smaller Navy, Air Force

While the Army is working hard to expand its force, the Air Force and Navy announced that they would be contracting. The Air Force expects to have about 18,000 fewer airmen by 2005, and the Navy is looking to cut 18,000 sailors by 2009. The Army hopes to entice them into its ranks with a new program called Blue to Green.

"This will allow talented sailors and airmen who have the specialties that we need, that want to continue on active duty, to transfer to the Army," Schoomaker said.

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