The U.S. military Tuesday reported the biggest surge in recruits since the end of the draft - an increase that likely will relieve pressure on troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by allowing them to spend more time at home between overseas deployments.
The U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force sent about 169,000 new recruits for training in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The Pentagon said this was the highest figure since 1973, the first year of the modern all-volunteer force. The numbers also exceed the Pentagon’s goal for the year of 164,000 new service members.
Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said the larger-than-expected recruitment numbers - which were boosted by rising unemployment elsewhere in the economy - likely would reduce some of the burdens on soldiers serving overseas.
In recent years, the amount of dwell time - the time a soldier spends at a U.S. military base with family and for training - has shrunk to a ratio of 1-to-1 when compared with the amount of time spent in the field, he said.
“Having that increased number gives you more flexibility to improve … the time between deployment and training at home stations,” he said. “If you are deployed for one year, you should be back home for two years. … For a number of units, it was down to 1-for-1.”
Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, told reporters at the Pentagon that the number of recruits increased in part because of the economic slump in the United States.
Asked whether higher unemployment contributed to the boom in recruits, Mr. Carr said, “It was a force. And, again, because our investment that we had planned on making in recruiting, given the unemployment that we had not directly forecast, allowed us to be for much of the year in a very favorable position.”
About 67,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan, and about 119,000 are serving in Iraq.
The White House is deliberating whether to send thousands more as requested by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and multinational forces in Afghanistan. Gen. McChrystal has presented President Obama with several options that call for as many as 60,000 additional troops.
Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he would be making a decision on sending additional troops to Afghanistan in the “coming weeks.”
“The reason why the military is under stress is that we have maintained ground forces of inadequate size since the end of the Cold War,” said Fred Kagan, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
“What we need to do is to recognize in the world we are operating in, large ground forces are important,” he said. “And with the economic environment we are in, we could readily recruit more, which would relieve the strain on our forces over time, which is even more important than the immediate impact.”