July 24, 2005

Army Likely to Fall Short in Recruiting, General Says



WASHINGTON, July 23 - The Army's top personnel officer acknowledged this week that the service will probably miss its recruiting goal this year, the first public admission by a senior Army official and a stark reminder of the Iraq war's impact on enlistments.

The officer, Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, said in testimony to the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee on Tuesday that an improving economy, competition from private industry and an increasing number of parents who are less supportive of military service meant that the active-duty Army, as well as the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, would fall short of their annual quotas.

"We will likely miss recruiting missions for all three components," said General Hagenbeck, voicing publicly what many senior Army officials have said privately for weeks.

The Army has not missed its annual enlistment quota since 1999, when a strong economy played havoc with recruiters' efforts.

Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, the commander of Army recruiting, has expressed cautious optimism in recent weeks that the active-duty Army could still eke out its annual enlistment goal, especially with 1,200 additional recruiters on the street for the peak summer months.

The Army met its monthly recruiting goal in June, the first time in five months, and is expected to exceed its July quota, recruiting officials say. But through June, the active-duty Army had enlisted only 47,121 recruits of its overall goal of 80,000, a rate that leaves too great a gap to make up, officials said.

"It now seems unlikely that the Army will achieve its goal," said Representative John M. McHugh, a New York Republican who is head of the House panel, and who predicted that the Army could fail by as many as 7,000 people for the recruiting year that ends on Sept. 30.

The gloomy forecast from General Hagenbeck came as the Army announced this week its latest package of recruiting bonuses, college funds and special pay for high-demand jobs. Under the new program, active-duty recruits could accrue more than $100,000 in incentives.

In addition, the Pentagon this week formally asked Congress to increase the maximum age for military recruits to 42, in all branches of the armed services. Currently, the limit is 39 for people without previous military experience who want to enlist in the reserves and the National Guard, and 35 for those wanting active-duty positions.

So far, re-enlistment rates have been stronger than expected and have helped cushion the impact of the Army's recruit shortage. Soldiers who re-enlist while deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait can earn up to $15,000 in tax-free bonuses. But Mr. McHugh warned that "predictions of a looming retention crisis" were valid given the repeated yearlong tours to Iraq and Afghanistan for a growing number of soldiers.

The Army has been experimenting with new television advertisements intended to persuade adults with influence over youngsters' career choices that the military fulfills a call to national service. But against the backdrop of Iraq and Afghanistan, many parents are turning a deaf ear.

"Due to the realities of war, there is less encouragement today from parents, teachers and other influencers to join the military," the Pentagon's top personnel official, David S. C. Chu, told the House panel.

Under the Army's new incentives, which began earlier this month, the service is offering $400 a month for up to 36 months, or a total of up to $14,400, to soldiers who enlist for three years or more as infantry, electronics repair specialists, food-service personnel and other high-demand jobs. The soldiers must agree to be assigned to a "priority unit," meaning one that is preparing to deploy overseas, according to the Army Recruiting Command.

Recruits who qualify for the special pay are also eligible for cash enlistment bonuses of up to $20,000, as well as a loan repayment program of as much as $65,000, or grants of up to $70,000 for college. Combined, these new incentives could reach $104,400.

Congress is now considering authorizing even higher bonuses. But senior military officials cautioned this week that monetary enticements alone were not a long-term panacea to the Army's recruiting problems.

Gen. Peter Pace, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who served as a recruiter in Buffalo for three years, said the military must appeal to American youth in other ways.

"This is not about money and benefits; this is about message," General Pace said at a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. "If we let our young folks and middle-young folks know how much we appreciate their service to their country - there are thousands and thousands of young men and women out there who want to serve this country."