Monday, December 12, 2005

The Army has exceeded recruiting goals in the first two months of this fiscal year, reversing a trend that had some Iraq critics saying the armed services branch was “broken.”

The Pentagon yesterday said the Army signed up 5,856 recruits in November, 5 percent above its goal. It previously announced the Army also exceeded its target in October, the first month of the 2006 fiscal year.

The Army has that hit its recruiting mark for six straight months, a promising development for the Bush administration. President Bush’s critics had cited the Army’s failure to achieve its recruiting goals in fiscal 2005 as proof that the war in Iraq is breaking the force.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and one of the party’s chief Iraq war critics, has called the Army “broken” and urged the White House to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country.

But Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the service is more confident of filling the ranks as the recruiting year unfolds.

“Part of the reason is it’s like steering a boat,” he said. “The changes we made in the last year take a while to take effect.”

Those changes included putting more recruiters on the street and offering specific assignment incentives. If a high school graduate was willing to commit to the 3rd Infantry Division bound for Iraq, for example, he could receive a bonus of several thousand dollars. Enlistees can receive up to a $20,000 bonus depending on the length of commitment and their job skills. The Army also changed its ad campaign to focus more on patriotism.

“I think the Army as a whole is working harder at recruiting,” Col. Hilferty said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials explained the 2005 recruiting shortfall this way: the active-duty Army is growing by 30,000, making the sign-up goal larger, and parents in some cases are counseling against joining the combat arms at a time when more than 2,000 American service members have been killed in Iraq since March 2003.

Soldiers typically spend a year in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then a year at home before deploying again. In contrast, Marines spend six months overseas and six months at home.

The Army fell far behind its goal of 80,000 recruits in fiscal 2005, but made up much of the lost ground during the summer, when high school graduates typically decided their next step. By Sept. 30, recruiters had brought in 73,000 future soldiers, a number the Army said was sufficient to sustain the force the next year. The Army last missed its mark in 1999.

Col. Hilferty said he “can’t guarantee” the Army will meet its end goal of 80,000 by next Sept. 30, noting the winter and spring are traditionally difficult recruiting seasons. The Army has 492,728 active-duty soldiers in the 1.4 million-member armed forces.

The Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force all met their November enlistment quotas.

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