Army met recruiting goal in November

But service again accepted a high percentage of people who scored in the lowest category on aptitude test


WASHINGTON -- The Army met its recruiting goal for November by again accepting a high percentage of recruits who scored in the lowest category on the military's aptitude tests, Pentagon officials said yesterday, raising renewed concerns that the quality of the all-volunteer force will suffer.

The Army exceeded by 256 its goal of 5,600 recruits for November, while the Army Reserve brought in 1,454 recruits, exceeding its target by 112. To do so, the Army accepted a "double-digit" percentage of recruits who scored between 16 and 30 out of a possible 99 on the military's aptitude test, said officials who requested anonymity.

Last month, The Sun reported that the Army reached its recruiting goals in October by accepting 12 percent from these low scorers, known as Category IV recruits. The Army may accept no more than 4 percent annually, according to Defense Department rules. While officials last month disclosed the percentage accepted in October, they declined yesterday to reveal the November figure.

"We are not giving out [aptitude test] categories during the course of the year," said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

Army officials say that at the end of the recruiting year, Sept. 30, the total percentage of Category IV soldiers will be no more than 4 percent. For more than a decade, the Army kept its Category IV soldiers to 2 percent of its recruitment pool. But last year, faced with a difficult recruiting climate because of the war in Iraq, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey decided to double the number of Category IV soldiers.

"We will be at 4 percent at the end of the fiscal year; that's what matters," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for Army personnel.

The increasing reliance on the lowest-scoring recruits is troubling to former officers who fear that the quality of the force will erode. They say that the increasingly high-tech Army needs even more qualified soldiers and that with troops facing more complex duties involving nation-building and peacekeeping, good judgment is more important.

"We are putting more responsibility on the shoulders of privates, probably more than any time in our history," said retired Lt. Col. Charles Krohn, a Vietnam War veteran who worked as a speechwriter for the head of Army personnel in the 1980s. "You don't want [lowest-scoring recruits] wandering into a mosque in Baghdad."

The Army had brought in 4 percent from Category IV - or about 2,900 of its 73,000 recruits - for the 2005 recruiting year, which ended Sept. 30. In 2004, the Army accepted 440 soldiers from the lowest category, or about 0.6 percent of 70,000 recruits. Despite the increase in lowest-scoring recruits, the Army was about 7,000 recruits short of its goal of 80,000 recruits for 2005.

At the same time, the Army is beginning to see an erosion in the percentage of soldiers re-enlisting, with some defense analysts saying the service is beginning to see the ripple effects of repeated yearlong deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In October the active-duty Army achieved 91 percent of its retention goal, while in November it got 94 percent, meaning that for the two months it lost about 1,000 soldiers. In the 2005 fiscal year, the Army achieved 108 percent of its goal for retention, re-enlisting 69,512 soldiers; its goal was 64,162.

The Army, which has about 492,000 soldiers, hopes to attract 80,000 recruits in 2006 as part of an effort to increase the size of the force by 30,000 during the next several years. The Army National Guard has a goal of 70,000 recruits over the next year, to maintain its force of 350,000.

Retired Army Gen. Edward "Shy" Meyer, a former Army chief of staff, the service's top officer, said that bringing in more Category IV recruits is acceptable as long as they can "perform adequately" in their jobs. But he wonders whether the Army has a handle on the situation, and he worries about the all-volunteer force. "I am concerned about the future," said Meyer, who plans on speaking out about the issue in coming weeks.

Meyer is well-versed on the matter of soldier quality. He warned President Jimmy Carter in 1979 that the post-Vietnam War Army was losing its best and most well-trained soldiers and becoming "hollow." The number of high school graduates inducted into the Army that year was the lowest since the all-volunteer force began six years earlier. It took Meyer and other officers nearly a decade to rebuild the force.

Senior Army officials, however, discount the reliance on the Army's aptitude test, arguing that it might not be the best indicator of success. Harvey, the Army secretary, told reporters recently that about 12 percent of the service's command sergeant majors - the senior enlisted soldiers in Army units - scored in Category IV.

The Army Guard has decreased its numbers of Category IV recruits because of a boost in higher-quality applicants, officials said. In October, the Guard brought in about 7 percent from Category IV, and the percentage dropped to less than 5 percent last month, said Lt. Col. Mike Jones, deputy director of recruiting for the National Guard Bureau.

For November, the Guard had a goal of 4,510 recruits and brought in 4,960. Jones said the Guard expects to limit the number of Category IV soldiers to 4 percent by the end of the recruiting year in September.

Guard officials said an increase in the number of recruiters, as well as bonuses and advertising, helped boost recruiting. Moreover, Jones said that the National Guard responses to domestic disasters - including Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast, flooding in Massachusetts and snowstorms in Vermont - appear to have aided the recruiting effort.

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