- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The U.S. Army reached its retention goal for fiscal 2006 a month early, and the Army National Guard, the Army Reserve and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are seeing recruitment gains, Army officials say.

Applications are increasing at West Point, which trains Army officers for command positions, reversing a trend of declines that has played out there for several years amid mounting casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s all good news for the Army, which today will re-enlist its 64,200th soldier this year, meeting its retention goal a month before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. The Army struggled to meet its recruitment goal last year, but it has reached its retention goals every year since 1998.

Cash bonuses averaging $14,000, special schooling and opportunities for career advancement are among the incentives the Army is offering to keep soldiers in the service.

For instance, Staff Sgt. Michael Obleton, 35, who has had two tours of duty in Iraq dodging roadside bombs as he drove trucks in Army convoys as part of 594th Transportation Company, says he is re-enlisting to attend school to become an Army career counselor.

But he says he would be happy to make a third trip to Iraq, once he completes his classes at Fort Campbell, Ky. “These are things we’re trained to take on. We’re still there. Our mission isn’t complete,” he told Associated Press.

The Army National Guard is expected to reach its re-enlistment goal of 34,875 for the current fiscal year. Likewise, the Army Reserve is expected to reach its goal of 17,712. Both totals are slightly higher than last year’s goals, officials said,

The outlook also is good at West Point. As of Aug. 17, the academy had received 7,870 applications for the class that will report in June 2007 and will graduate in 2011. That is a 14 percent increase from the same time last year, according to West Point spokesman Mike D’Aquino.

There are 6,223 men and 1,647 women who applied for next year’s freshman class at the U.S. Military Academy, he said.

After a surge in the wake of the September 11 attacks — generally attributed to patriotic fervor — applications to the academy dropped in late 2004 and 2005.

With West Point’s application deadline six months away, Mr. D’Aquino said he suspects the final figures for next year will resemble the class of 2008, whose members applied in 2003 and early 2004.

The U.S. Naval Academy is seeing a similar trend this year, a spokeswoman said. It reported receiving 9,043 applications for the Class of 2011 as of yesterday. That was up from 8,011 on Aug. 30, 2005.

The Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy could not provide their application figures yesterday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.