Army unlikely to make recruiting goals for year

Top general testifies as Pentagon seeks raise in recruitment bonuses

July 01, 2005|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Army's top general told Congress yesterday the Army is at "serious risk" of not making its recruiting goals for the year, as military officials pressed lawmakers for increased bonuses to attract new soldiers.

One Pentagon official, who requested anonymity, said the Army's hierarchy realizes it will not make the goal of 80,000 recruits this year and the only question is how many thousands short it will be. The Army is about 7,800 recruits short now, with three months left in the recruiting year.

The last time the service failed to meet its recruiting number was in 1999.

"The Army's [recruitment mission] of 80,000 is at serious risk, and recruiting will remain challenging for the remainder of 2005 and well into the future," Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Schoomaker and other officials acknowledged that the war in Iraq has hampered recruitment, as parents, coaches and teachers persuade the young to avoid the military.

Still, the general said, "I believe this generation wants to serve."

Schoomaker also blamed the failure to meet manpower goals, in part, on a decision by the Pentagon to increase the overall size of the Army by 30,000 soldiers over the next several years.

The grim recruiting outlook comes despite the fact the Army made its monthly sign-up goals in June for the first time since January, bringing in about 6,150 recruits, versus a goal of 5,650. The Army Reserve also made its goal in June, exceeding the target of 3,610 by about 40 soldiers.

The Army National Guard did not meet its monthly goal, according to Pentagon officials.

In an effort to meet its goals, the Army is accepting more recruits who score poorly on the military's aptitude test. These recruits, known as Category 4, account for about 1.98 percent of total recruits, compared with just 0.60 percent last year.

That is the highest percentage in this category since 2001, when the Army also was struggling to meet its recruiting goals. Officials have said they will not go above a self-imposed 2 percent ceiling for the category, though Pentagon rules allow up to 4 percent.

Schoomaker said 2006 "may be the toughest recruiting environment ever." The Army has had to place nearly every recruit it can get into its monthly quotas rather than holding them in the Delayed Entry Program, which can be used to cover shortfalls in winter, when recruiting is hard.

Typically, the Army likes to begin a recruiting year with 25 percent to 35 percent of its yearly recruiting mission already in the Delayed Entry Program.

But the Army began this year with only 18.4 percent and found itself struggling all year, officials said. Next year, the program will be between 9 percent and 10 percent, which Schoomaker called "the smallest beginning Delayed Entry Program in history."

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel, told lawmakers the Pentagon wants to increase recruiting bonuses in an effort to increase enlistments. The House has raised the maximum for enlistment bonuses to $30,000, from $20,000, but the Senate has yet to act.

Chu said he would like the Senate to support increased bonuses "perhaps greater" than those endorsed by the House.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said many senators on the committee are "very concerned about retention and recruiting" and the impact of operations in Iraq on the military.

"I think, again, that we are hearing from too many people in the field, from too many people that are recruiters, from too many people who are telling me that they're not staying because of the over-stress on themselves and their families," he said.

McCain quoted retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who said the Army and Marine Corps were in danger of "unraveling" and do not have enough troops to remain at the current levels in Iraq beyond next fall.

"Do you have sufficient forces, indefinitely, to maintain the kind of rotation with the size force you have?" McCain asked Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant.

"We have the sufficient forces to go through next fall," Hagee said. "I'm not sure I would say `indefinitely,' at this current [level], sir. But talking with the commander on the ground, which I did just this morning, he is very satisfied with the forces and the equipment that he has on the ground today."

After the Vietnam War, Gen. Edward "Shy" Meyer famously warned President Jimmy Carter that the Army was losing its best-trained soldiers and becoming "hollow."

Despite concerns among some analysts that those days are returning, Schoomaker dismissed such talk.

"Those of us up here are old enough to have served in a time when this force was broken," he said. "That was in the early '70s. So we know what a broken force looks like, and this force is not broken."

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