Army offers 15-month hitch

By Dave Moniz, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON The Army, faced with a severe and growing shortage of recruits, began offering 15-month active-duty enlistments nationwide Thursday, the shortest tours ever.

The typical enlistment lasts three or four years; the previous shortest enlistment was two years.

Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the head of the Army Recruiting Command, said 2006 could be even worse than this year, a continuation of "the toughest recruiting climate ever faced by the all-volunteer Army."

Recruits in the new 15-month program could serve in 59 of the more than 150 jobs in the Army, including the combat infantry, and then serve two years in the Reserve or National Guard.

They would finish their eight-year military obligation in the Guard or Reserve, volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, or the Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of former active-duty troops who can still be called to duty but aren't affiliated with any military unit.

David Segal, a military personnel expert at the University of Maryland, said the 15-month enlistments are no panacea. Fifteen months, Segal said, is often not enough time to learn complex tasks in a high-tech Army.

Jim Martin, a retired Army officer who teaches military culture at Bryn Mawr College, said parents and teachers "see the Army as a real risk, a real danger" because of the war in Iraq. That, more than the length of service, is the major obstacle to recruiting.

Rochelle projected the service will have only half the number of recruits ready for 2006 than it did this year, when it had an unusually low number of recruits signed up in advance. Under the Army's delayed entry program, recruits can sign up one year and report for service a year later.

In 2006, the Army's stockpile of recruits is projected to drop from 18%, or 14,400 soldiers, of the recruiting target of 80,000 to just under 10%, or slightly less than 8,000, Rochelle said.

The Army usually aims at beginning a new recruiting year with 25-35% of its goal signed up in advance.

That cushion of advance recruits often determines whether the Army meets or misses its goal.

It's "not a bright picture," Rochelle said during a conference call.

More than halfway through its fiscal year, the Army has not been able to make a noticeable dent in the public's reluctance to enlist its sons and daughters. That's despite record-high bonuses paid to recruits, a new advertising campaign that targets parents and a dramatic increase in the number of recruiters throughout the nation.

Segal said he doesn't think the Army will make its goals this year or next. The Marine Corps is struggling.

But the Air Force and Navy, the two services not heavily involved in ground combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, should meet their goals this year, Segal said.

Rochelle said he believes the Army can meet its recruiting goal for 2005, although recruiters are working 80-hour weeks to meet their monthly quotas.

In response to cases in which recruiters offered to provide fake high school diplomas and enlist recruits with disqualifying medical conditions, the Army will stop recruiting for one day later this month to provide ethics training.

So far this fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, the Army reported 480 allegations, of which 91 were ruled as valid. Eight recruiters have been relieved from duty, and 98 were admonished.