Army appealing to patriotism to beat recruiting slump

Thursday, March 24, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The Army expects to miss its recruiting goals this month and next and is working on a revised sales pitch appealing to the patriotism of parents, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey said Wednesday.

Whether that boosts enlistment numbers or not, Harvey said he sees no chance of a military draft.

"The 'D' word is the farthest thing from my mind," the former defense company executive told a Pentagon news conference, his first since becoming the Army's top civilian official last November.

Because of the military manpower strains caused by simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some in Congress have raised the possibility of re-instituting the draft, although there is a strong consensus against it among Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the military chiefs.

This is the first time the United States has been in a sustained period of combat since the all-volunteer force was introduced in 1973. The Air Force and Navy, which have relatively smaller roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, have no recruiting problems, but the Army and Marines are hard pressed.

The Army missed its recruiting goal for February by 27 percent, and that was the first time it had missed a monthly goal since May 2000. The last time it missed its full-year goal was 1999.

As of Feb. 28, the regular Army was 6 percent below the number of recruits it had expected to sign up at that point in the recruiting year, the Army Reserve was 10 percent off and the Army National Guard was 25 percent off.

The Army is forecasting that all three elements -- active, Guard and Reserve -- will fall short of their targets for March and April. That means they will have to make up the lost ground this summer -- traditionally the best recruiting season -- in order to meet their full-year goals.

"I'm clearly not going to give up," Harvey said. "At this stage we still have six months to go" before the recruiting year ends Sept. 30. "I've challenged our human resource people to get as innovative as they can. And even as we speak we've got a number of new ideas."

One of those new approaches is designed to persuade more parents to steer their children to the Army.

"We're going to appeal to patriotism," he said.

That might be done through a new advertising campaign, he said. He also is encouraging more members of Congress as well as senior Army leaders and Army boosters to spend time in local communities touting the benefits of military service.

The Army also has increased the number of recruiters on the street by 33 percent and is offering bigger signup bonuses. Last week the Army announced that the National Guard and Reserve were raising the maximum age for recruits from 34 to 39 in order to expand the pool of potential enlistees. The regular Army could not raise the maximum age without congressional approval.

In a related matter, the Army said more people in the Individual Ready Reserve -- those no longer in uniform and not obligated to train -- are going to be hearing from the Army in the weeks ahead. The Army has revised upward the number of IRR soldiers it plans to put on active duty, from the 4,402 announced last summer to 4,653. Of those given mobilization orders so far, 370 have failed to report for duty, according to Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman. An additional 2,229 have asked for delays in their reporting dates or for exemptions.

Harvey also disclosed that the Army is "looking at" changing its policy on having more than one sibling in a combat zone at the same time. He did not say how the policy might be altered, and he declined to say more about the subject, other than to indicate that it came up when he visited the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where wounded U.S. troops are treated.

The current policy is that if one of two siblings in a combat zone is killed, the Army will consider removing the remaining one from the combat zone if the surviving soldier or his parents request it, according to spokeswoman Hart. She said she was not aware of any planned change.

Lt. Col. Tom Collins, spokesman for Harvey, said later that Harvey was in the early stages of thinking through the whole issue and that no proposed changes had been developed yet.

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