The U.S. Army, which has done some of the toughest and longest fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, has met its recruiting and retention goals for active-duty soldiers in the fiscal year that ends today.
The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps also achieved those goals at a time when the 1.4-million-person armed forces is under intense deployment pressures because of the global war on terrorism.
The Army did suffer setbacks in the government's fiscal 2004. The National Guard will miss its recruiting goal of 56,000. It had signed up only 43,827 by Aug. 31. Critics say frequent call-ups and 12-month deployments are driving prospects away, but the Army cites the fact that more soldiers are being kept on active duty, which means they are not available for Guard recruiters.
On the retention front, both the Guard and Army reserves will miss targets slightly -- by 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively, the Army projects.
But overall, the Army brass say they are pleased at 100 percent-plus retention rates for enlisted active-duty soldiers, especially in its 10 active-combat divisions, which have seen some of the bloodiest combat in Iraq cities such as Najaf, Baghdad and Sammara. The goal of retaining 56,100 will be exceeded by about 800 soldiers.
On new recruits heading to basic training, the target of 77,000 was exceeded 10 days ago by a margin of 47 inductees.
"It goes completely against the conventional wisdom. But it's true," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "We understand that we need to continue to show good leadership and focus resources to get citizens to enlist and to re-enlist. But we're doing it."
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry and other party members have contended that the war is putting so much stress on the force that President Bush will be forced to reinstitute the draft -- a scenario denied by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Keeping the Army ranks filled comes with financial and manpower costs.
The Army has relied on a procedure known as "stop-loss" to keep soldier specialists on active duty who might otherwise return to civilian life. It also has recalled soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve to increase overall manpower levels.
These types of moves, plus yearlong deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, has the Pentagon closely watching the Army -- the nation's largest land force -- more than the other military branches.
As an inducement, the Army also has increased re-enlistment bonuses and made them tax-free if a soldier signs up in a combat zone.
In other end-of-the year benchmarks:
The Marine Corps, whose amphibious units have fought in Afghanistan and patrol the notorious Anbar Province in Iraq, says it is on track to meet a goal of 36,773 recruits this fiscal year.
The Air Force three months ago exceeded a goal of retaining 55 percent of first-termers, garnering 68 percent. In fact, the branch is 20,000 over its budget-authorized personnel strength and is transferring some airmen to the Army.
Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens attributed the sign-up rate to patriotism, the civilian job market and job satisfaction.
"These are all trends we are seeing," she said.
Edgar Castillo, spokesman for Air Force Recruit Services at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, said the branch actually is slashing accessions from 34,080 this year to 24,000 next year.
"There are people right now that want to join that we can't accommodate," Mr. Castillo said.
The Navy will meet its marker of 39,700 enlisted recruits, as it has for every year in recent memory, except 1998. The branch might miss the goal for 11,000 new naval reservists, partly because active duty retention rates are so high the pool of available recruits is shrinking for certain skills.