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Guard to Miss Its Recruiting Targets

September 24, 2004|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — With many soldiers who have already served in Iraq reluctant to serve again, the Army National Guard will fall short of its recruiting goals this year for the first time in a decade, senior Guard officials said Thursday.

The Guard had set a goal of 56,000 recruits for the budget year ending Sept. 30, but now expected to end up with about 51,000, said Lt. Col. Mike Jones, deputy division chief of National Guard recruiting and retention.

"If you're an active-duty soldier and you've just deployed for 18 months and your tour is up and you're desiring to resume a civilian career and then you see that the National Guard unit you are joining would be on the list to go, obviously you are weighing that into your decision," Jones said.

The shortfall is significant because it is the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that any of the uniformed services have said they will fail to meet their annual recruiting goals.

Experts have been warning of a dip in the number of people willing to serve in the military since the war on terrorism began.

The Guard is struggling to recruit people in large part because active-duty soldiers are aware that an increasing number of Guard units are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, so they no longer see the Guard as a safe alternative to total retirement from the military.

In addition, the active-duty Army, itself strapped for troops, is preventing soldiers already in units in war zones, or preparing to deploy there, from leaving the service, even if their terms of service expire. And the Army is offering cash incentives to others who might have joined the National Guard to reenlist.

With many Guard units spending a year or more abroad, returning members do not have as much time to spend persuading young people in their communities to join, Jones said, making it more difficult to attract recruits who have not served in the military.

More than 70,000 of the Guard's 350,000 soldiers are serving in Afghanistan or Iraq.

"The highest success in recruitment comes not from TV or direct mail but from members in service just getting out and talking to people where they live," Jones said. "Normally, uncles bring in their nephews or their neighbors or people who are new to the community. These days they're not there. They're not talking to their friends at school or at work or whatever."

National Guard officials said they were concerned the shortfall could signal a deepening recruitment problem. To forestall further problems, the Guard this year began to increase the money spent on recruiting and the number of recruiters deployed across the country. National Guard recruiters jumped by 200 this year, to 2,900, and were expected to increase by at least another 200 next year, Jones said.

The Guard has pumped $35 million into ads since May, up by $10 million over the same period a year earlier, Jones said.

In addition, more Guard members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are being asked to aid recruitment by speaking to groups of young people about what they feel they accomplished, Jones said.

And some active-duty soldiers who have served a tour of duty in the war zones and agree to join the Guard are being offered guarantees that they won't be deployed again for their first year of service, Jones said.

But the strained active-duty Army has already increased its efforts to recruit and retain members. Soldiers in Iraq are being offered $10,000 in cash to reenlist. Pay, retirement packages and benefits for Army soldiers are up.

The Guard, meanwhile, has not received congressional authority to increase enlistment bonuses.

That means that those who want to fight in places such as Iraq may choose to stay in the regular Army. Those who would rather be at home may choose to get out altogether, National Guard officials said.

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