- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) More recruiters and incentive programs have led to the Virginia Army National Guard’s highest troop levels in 14 years, officials said.

The Guard will end April with more than 8,000 soldiers, numbers last seen in 1994.

“The concept of the National Guardsman is still alive and well in America,” Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman Jr., the adjutant general of Virginia, said in a telephone interview after a swearing-in ceremony of five new recruits at Fort Lee in Petersburg, Va.

Maintaining strength is critical, Gen. Newman said, adding that to have the success the Guard has had over the past two years is “phenomenal, when you look at the environment in which we’re competing.”

Gen. Newman said the numbers also speak highly of those who choose to serve Virginia and the country during a time of war. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 7,025 Virginia Guard soldiers have entered active federal service in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Thank goodness we still have a group of young people who place service before self,” Gen. Newman said.

Levels hit a low point in 2005 with just short of 6,900 members, but the Guard increased the number of recruiters, reorganized operations and developed new recruiting programs.

Officials went from 60 recruiters to more than 100 working out of armories throughout the state and six storefront recruiting offices in Virginia Beach, Newport News, Chester, Chesterfield, Woodbridge and Mount Vernon.

Along with other incentive programs, the National Guard Bureau doubled the enlistment bonuses being offered to be between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on military specialty.

Virginia also offers full tuition assistance for any soldier who joins the Guard, allowing soldiers to have their tuition paid at any public school in the state.

The state, which is authorized for 7,600 soldiers but can recruit up to 9,500, continues to meet its monthly recruiting goals and is growing by an average of 35 to 40 soldiers each month, the Guard said.

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