- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The U.S. Armed Forces will meet wartime recruiting goals for the fiscal year that ends in two weeks, military officials said yesterday.

Despite Washington’s heated political debate on the worthiness of the Iraq war, frequent overseas war deployments and daily casualties, officials say a sufficient number of young men and women are signing up with the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps in fiscal 2006 to maintain an active-duty force of about 1.4 million.

The Army, which has suffered the largest death toll as the chief provider of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, reports that it has exceeded a goal of 70,200 recruits by signing up 72,997 as of August. Officials say they expect to meet a Sept. 30 goal of 80,000 for the fiscal year.

The Army missed its goal two years ago for the first time since 1999, sparking fears that the stress of the global war on terrorism and daily reports of soldier deaths were discouraging high school graduates from joining.

Hitting the mark in a time of war has cost the Army more money — and style. In June, it raised the maximum age for recruits from 38 to 42, and says it has attracted scores of veterans. And it relaxed tattoo rules. Now, body art can extend above the neck.

“We learned more and more teenagers have tattoos, so we relaxed the tattoo policy,” said Maj. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

The Army also is offering increased college tuition reimbursement and sign-up bonuses up to $40,000.

Of exceeding the recruiting goal, Maj. Banks said, “It’s always better to have more than less. We don’t stop.”

The Marine Corps, which has troops in the restive and deadly Anbar province in Iraq, also will meet its goal this fiscal year of 32,701 active-duty recruits and 5,930 reservists, said Maj. Wes Hayes, a spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command. He said the Corps has not increased incentives.

“Our success is all attributed to those 2,650 Marine Corps recruiters, their tireless efforts, their professionalism at informing and educating young men and women about the Marine Corps,” he said.

The Pentagon reports that the Navy and Air Force also are meeting recruitment goals.

The Army is still encountering shortfalls in Reserve recruiting. It stands at 94 percent of a targeted 33,124 by the end of August. The Army National Guard is a few tenths of a percent below its goal.

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