WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than 35 years, the U.S. military has met all of its annual recruiting goals, with hundreds of thousands of young people enlisting despite the near-certainty that they will go to war.
The Pentagon, which made the announcement Tuesday, said the economic downturn and rising joblessness, as well as bonuses and other factors, had led more qualified youths to enlist.
The military has not seen such across-the-board success since the all-volunteer force was established in 1973. Just a few years ago, the military routinely fell short of its recruiting targets. The Army in particular has struggled to fill its ranks, admitting more high school dropouts, overweight youths and even felons.
But during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, recruiters met their targets in both numbers and quality for all components of active-duty and reserve forces.
"We delivered beyond anything the framers of the all-volunteer force would have anticipated," Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of Defense for military personnel policy, said at a Pentagon news conference.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are considered an unprecedented test of the military's resilience. Its ability to bring fresh recruits into the force is crucial not only to increasing the overall size of the Army and Marine Corps, but to ensuring that additional units are available to rotate into war zones. Some Army units sent overseas recently have been deployed at less than full strength.
As lengthy, multiple combat tours place U.S. forces under enormous stress, the willingness of young people to enlist has surprised even military leaders, experts said.
The Defense Department brought in 168,900 active-duty troops, or 103% of the goal for the fiscal year, officials said. It reached 104% of the goal for recruitment of National Guard and reserve forces.
The quality of recruits also improved, with about 95% reporting that they had received high school diplomas. The active-duty Army this year admitted only 1.5% of recruits who obtained the lowest acceptable score on the standard qualification test; in recent years, that figure had neared 4%.
Carr also credited enlistment bonuses for the military's success, saying 40% of recruits received an average bonus of $14,000, up from $12,000 in 2008.