The Army, already likely to miss its recruiting goal this year, may have even more trouble filling its ranks next year, the service's chief of staff said yesterday.
"We've got enormous challenges," Gen. Peter Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In written testimony, he said the Army's goal of 80,000 recruits this year "is at serious risk," and recruiting woes will stretch "well into the future." Next year, he wrote, "may be the toughest recruiting environment ever."
Gen. Schoomaker's testimony came a day after officials said the Army met its recruiting goal for June after four months of shortfalls.
Despite that progress, the active-duty Army is still 7,800 recruits behind its year-to-date goal. The service hoped to recruit 80,000 into its ranks between Oct. 1, 2004, and this Sept. 30.
Gen. Schoomaker told lawmakers the Army has met 84 percent of that goal. Retention, he said, remains high.
Charles Abell, the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are ahead of their annual recruiting goals. He was confident they will meet or exceed those goals.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained manpower across the military branches. The Army -- which is bearing the brunt of the fighting -- has been particularly affected.
Pentagon officials repeatedly asked committee members yesterday to stress the importance of military service.
"It's very important that you and your colleagues use your considerable influence to explain to the American people and to those that are influencers out there how important it is for our young people to serve this nation at a time like this," Gen. Schoomaker told the senators.
"Some of us do that every day, general," replied Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, a Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam.
The appeal to lawmakers is part of an administration effort this week to ask adults -- parents, teachers and coaches -- to encourage the younger generation to sign up.
On Tuesday, President Bush urged more people to enlist. A day later, Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said parents should let their sons and daughters who want to join the military follow their patriotic instincts.
The Pentagon blames the recruiting shortfalls in part on an economy that's providing other opportunities to high school and college graduates. Opinion polls also show young people and parents are turning away from Army service because of the ongoing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"With the deluge of negative news that we get daily, it's just amazing to me that anybody would want to sign up," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said recruitment was "a chronic problem" and he told Pentagon officials to "stay ahead of it."
The services have added recruiters, boosted enlistment bonuses and reworked recruitment strategies.