Guard recruits fall off steeply

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The National Guard is facing the deepest shortfalls in recruiting in more than a decade just when it is at its busiest since World War II, forcing commanders to rethink how they attract and keep part-time guardsmen.

As the war on Islamist terrorists has required mobilization of more than 214,000 guardsmen — two-thirds of the force — personnel who expected to drill a weekend a month and never stray far from home now find themselves subjected to up to two years on active duty.

“We have a recruiting and retention challenge,” said Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, adjutant general of the Maryland Air and Army National Guard. “Part of the retention problem is the fact that we need to become a much more user-friendly organization for our soldiers.”

Maryland offers a good snapshot of a hard-pressed National Guard since the September 11 attacks.

It has activated more than 4,500 personnel in air wings, military police, intelligence units, infantry and special operations.

“We actually have a little bit of everything,” said Maj. Charles Kohler, a Maryland Guard spokesman.

Frequent call-ups are taking a toll. The Pentagon authorizes Maryland 6,860 soldiers; it has 5,696.

The story is about the same in the more than 2,500 Guard armories across the country. None has escaped the nation’s need for reserve forces to spend long tours on active duty.

Like the active Army, the Guard has fallen far behind its recruiting goal. It wanted nearly 45,000 new recruits by June in this fiscal year, but is 10,000 short.

More alarming, Army Guard is authorized by Congress to equip 350,000 soldiers, but is nearly 20,000 understrength.

Still, Guard officials in the District contend that the depleted ranks are 95 percent of strength — enough to mobilize and deploy on schedule.

“We are able to meet our mission,” said Lt. Col. Mike Milord, a Guard spokesman in Washington.

Rooted in the militias of colonial times, the Guard is a unique institution in the 50 states, territories and the District. Each unit has two commanders in chief — the state governor, who can call up guardsmen in time of natural and man-made crises, and the president, who can activate troops for a variety of stateside and overseas operations.

“Typically, we’re the first military responders in a local emergency,” Col. Milord said.

There are nearly 54,000 Guard soldiers and more than 4,000 airmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 250 have been killed in those conflicts.

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