- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

National Guard officials yesterday said recruiting has accelerated so much in recent months that they expect to expand the Guard even as the Bush administration proposes to shrink it.

For the first time since 1993, the Guard exceeded a quarterly recruiting goal, signing up 13,466 recruits in the final three months of 2005, up from 12,605 the previous fall, said the National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon office that administers the Guard.

Mark Allen, a National Guard Bureau spokesman, attributed the 7 percent improvement to a new advertising campaign, a large increase in financial incentives and a near doubling of the number of recruiters, from 2,700 to 5,100.

In a statement released yesterday, the Guard said it is “aggressively working” to reach the 350,000-troop level that it is funded for by the end of the current budget year on Sept. 30, despite Mr. Bush’s call to cut the force next year to its current level of 333,000 troops.

It is unusual for a military organization such as the Guard Bureau to publicly suggest that it is moving in a direction that appears to differ from the administration’s. Any talk of cutting the Guard is politically sensitive because Guard units are controlled by governors, except when they are mobilized by presidential order.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey has said that if the Guard is able to grow beyond 333,000, the Army would shift money from elsewhere in its budget to pay for the extra troops. A spokesman for Mr. Harvey, Lt. Col. Thomas Collins, said he did not have figures to show what it would cost to grow to 350,000.

“We would not make the Guard pay for it,” Col. Collins said.

In his 2007 budget proposal to be sent to Congress on Feb. 6, President Bush would pay for a Guard of 333,000 troops, compared with its congressionally authorized limit of 350,000. Administration officials say that is not a cut because 333,000 reflects the actual number of troops in the Guard, which has been well under its authorized size because of a deep recruiting slump, even though it has been budgeted for 350,000.

In the 2005 budget year that ended Sept. 30, the Army National Guard fell 20 percent short of its recruiting goal. The active-duty Army fell 8 percent short, and the Army Reserve missed its goal by 16 percent.

The administration’s plan to pay for a smaller Guard has stirred opposition in Congress and among Guard advocacy groups such as the National Guard Association of the United States, which represents current and former Army Guard and Air Guard officers.

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