Draft Update: National Guard Falls 30 Percent Short of Recruiting Goal

New York Times

Guard Reports Serious Drop in Enlistment

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 – In the latest signs of strains on the military from the war in Iraq, the Army National Guard announced on Thursday that it had fallen 30 percent below its recruiting goals in the last two months and would offer new incentives, including enlistment bonuses of up to $15,000.

In addition, the head of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, said on Thursday that he needed $20 billion to replace arms and equipment destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan or left there for other Army and Air Guard units to use, so that returning reservists will have enough equipment to deal with emergencies at home.

The sharp decline in recruiting is significant because National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers now make up nearly 40 percent of the 148,000 troops in Iraq, and are a vital source for filling the ranks, particularly those who perform essential support tasks, like truck drivers and military police.

General Blum said the main reason for the Army National Guard’s recruiting shortfall was a sharp reduction in the number of recruits joining the Guard and Reserve when they leave active duty. In peacetime the commitment means maintaining their ties to the military with a weekend of service a month and two weeks in the summer.

Over the last 30 years, General Blum said, the Guard has counted on these soldiers with prior military service for about half of its recruits. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, however, many of these soldiers have been hesitant to join the Guard because of the increasing likelihood that America’s citizen-soldiers will be activated and sent to Iraq or Afghanistan for up to 12 months. Indeed, many of the active-duty soldiers the Army would like to enlist in the Reserves have recently fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, and some have no inclination to do so again.

In an effort to halt the slide, the Army National Guard this week approved recruiting incentives that triple the enlistment bonuses to $15,000 for soldiers with prior military experience who sign up for six years (tax-free if soldiers enlist overseas), Guard officials said. Bonuses for new enlistees will increased to $10,000 from $6,000.

The Guard has already said it intends to increase the number of recruiters to 4,100 from 2,700 over the next three months, the first large increase since 1989.

“We’re in a more difficult recruiting environment, period,” General Blum told reporters in disclosing the new figures and the new incentives. “There’s no question that when you have a sustained ground combat operation going that the Guard’s participating in, that makes recruiting more difficult.”

There are 42,000 Army National Guard soldiers serving in Iraq and Kuwait, and 8,200 serving in Afghanistan. Since Sept. 11, General Blum said, there have been about 100,000 Army National Guard troops activated for duty at home or abroad at any given time.

General Blum’s remarks come just a few days after the chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, told The Dallas Morning News that the Army Reserve recruiting was in a “precipitous decline” that if unchecked could inspire renewed debate over the draft. General Helmly told the newspaper that he personally opposed reviving the draft.

For the first two months of the fiscal year 2005, which started Oct. 1, the Army Reserve has also stumbled, falling 315 recruits short of its goal of 3,170 soldiers, a drop of 10 percent.

In November, the Guard recruited 2,902 enlistees, about 26 percent below its target of 3,925 recruits. In October and November combined, the Guard recruited 5,448 enlistees, nearly 30 percent below its goal of 7,600. At full strength, the Guard has 350,000 soldiers.

In the 2004 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Guard missed its overall recruiting target of 56,000 soldiers by more than 5,000, the first time it had missed its yearly goal since 1994. The active-duty branches of the armed services all met their recruiting goals last year.

As a result, General Blum said, the Guard has lowered its reliance on recruits with military experience to just 35 percent of its overall total and will seek a much larger pool of recruits with no military experience.

“We are correcting, frankly, some of our recruiting themes and slogans to reflect a reality of today,” he said. “We’re not talking about one weekend a month and two weeks a year and college tuition. We’re talking about service to the nation.”

General Blum expressed confidence that the nearly $300 million in recruiting bonuses in this year’s budget and the increase in the number of recruiters would propel the Guard to meet its yearly goal but said that probably would not happen until August or so. “I think we’ll recover,” he said.

Some military personnel specialists offered a much more pessimistic forecast and said the lower recruiting numbers were the harbingers of tougher times to come.

“I don’t think this is an aberration,” said David R. Segal, a military sociologist who directs the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland. “I think we’re going to see significant shortfalls in recruitment, and I think we’re to begin to see retention problems. We’re also going to see increasing concerns at the state level about how the Guard will man itself and perform its state missions.”

The Guard’s woes do not end with recruiting. General Blum said the Army National Guard needed $20 billion over the next three years to buy additional radios, trucks, aircraft, engineering equipment and other materiel that have been wrecked or left behind in Iraq or Afghanistan..

“Otherwise, the Guard will be broken and not ready for the next time it’s needed, either here at home or for war,” General Blum said.

A spokesman for the Florida National Guard, Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, said Guard units in the state, which mobilized some 5,000 troops to deal with the three hurricanes in August and September, were already experiencing some shortages.

“It could hinder us to some degree,” Colonel Tittle said. “But we adapt and make do. We’ll accomplish the mission.”

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