- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

The March recruiting and retention numbers out this week suggest that the Army has overcome many of the manpower woes it suffered in fiscal 2005. This puts aspin those media heads acclimated to bad news.

The Army exceeded its March target of 5,200 recruits by nearly 200, following a successful February (6,114 recruits against a goal of 6,000), following similar results for January, all traditionally lean months for military recruiting. The Reserves netted 89 percent and seem likely to report further shortfalls, but their February numbers (97 percent) coupled with the National Guard’s clear success (102 percent in March, 101 in February) make this less dire.

Media coverage of recruiting and retention since the big headlines of 2004-5 is more than a little schizophrenic. Like any story driven by statistics, the headlines change depending on the spin the spinner emphasizes, so some stories depict success and others are torturously negative.

USA Today is bullish: “Army surpassing year’s retention goal by 15%,” with nary a mention of the Reserves problems and quoting a Pentagon spokesman’s rebuttal of the assertion that the Iraq war has harmed retention. In the middle is The Washington Post, “Army Meets Recruiting Goals for March,” noting that the pace of recruiting has declined slightly over the past year. On the other side, the reliably liberal Boston Globe headline, “Pace of Army recruiting declines,” over a Reuters dispatch predictably spun the March numbers as negatively as it could.

The New York Times attempted to spoil the good news by reporting that Naval Academy graduates are deserting the ranks to take lucrative private-sector opportunities. One-third of the Naval Academy’s graduates of 2000 left the service as early as they could, in 2005; this, the New York Times observed, was “apparently marking the end of a burst of patriotic fervor.”

But not so fast. Buried in the 12th paragraph is the telling statistic that since 2001, the total percentage of Army officers leaving at the first possible opportunity has hovered in the range of 6 percent to 9 percent — and fewer officers do this today than before the September 11 terrorist attacks. If one considers all military graduates, and not just the highly sought-after Naval Academy graduates, the numbers are considerably better.

The real story here is a mixed picture of Pentagon recruiters using innovative tactics, hefty bonuses and other perks to entice good people into the military. They’re succeeding, and that’s good news any way you spin it.

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