Army Has Ideas To Boost Recruiting

US ARMY logo over soldiers and flag texture, partial graphic AP

The Army has a master plan for recovering from this year's painful recruiting problems that includes new financial incentives for enlistees, greater use of computers, a new way for recruiters to make their pitch and a proposed finder's fee for soldiers who refer recruits.

The plan was assembled after the Army fell more than 6,600 recruits below its goal of 80,000 for the year that ended Sept. 30. It was the first time it had fallen short since 1999.

The military services were releasing their complete year-end recruiting figures Tuesday. The Army, which has borne the largest share of the combat burden in Iraq and Afghanistan, was expected to be the only service to have fallen short, although the Marine Corps struggled for part of the year.

Opinion surveys indicate that daily reports of soldiers dying in Iraq have dampened young people's interest in joining the military, prompting the Army to try new ways to make the war work in its favor.

For example, since July the Army has been offering prospective recruits what it calls "assignment incentive pay." That is $400 a month in extra pay for as many as 36 months if an enlistee agrees to join any of the brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division or 25th Infantry Division scheduled to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Army also is encouraging combat veterans who return home on leave from Iraq or Afghanistan to meet with young people in their home towns to talk about their experiences in hopes of snagging extra recruits. The Army has found that re-enlist rates are especially high among units that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Raymond DuBois, acting undersecretary of the Army, spearheaded the effort to identify new approaches. Some imitate recruiting practices used in the business world, and not all emphasize financial incentives.

Parts of this new strategy were put into practice several months ago; others await congressional approval. DuBois says the shifts began paying dividends this summer, when the Army exceeded its recruiting goals monthly from June through September, after missing for four straight months.

"By virtue of what we have put in place over the last six to eight months, I'm confident the Army will achieve its goal of 80,000 recruits" for the budget year that began Oct. 1, DuBois said in an interview Monday.

Some private analysts were skeptical. Michael O'Hanlon, defense specialist at the Brookings Institution, said Monday that if conditions get worse the future of the all-volunteer force could be in jeopardy.

"Unless the situation in Iraq improves, or unless we drastically enlarge the pool of possible recruits in some way — for example, lowering academic standards for them, or even considering an extreme option like allowing foreigners to gain U.S. citizenship by serving — one would have to expect continued tough slogging for the Army," O'Hanlon said.

When the Army saw its recruiting efforts fall drastically below expectations — starting last February and bottoming out in April with only 58 percent of that month's goal achieved — it embarked on some new approaches.

The most important may have been the assignment of extra recruiters. The active-duty Army added nearly 1,300 recruiters during the year, for a total of 6,401 as of Sept. 30, and the Army Reserve added nearly 600, for a total of 1,547 recruiters, according to S. Douglas Smith, a spokesman for Army Recruiting Command.

The Army also has asked Congress for permission to raise the maximum enlistment bonus from $20,000 to $40,000.

Among the main features of the Army's master plan for reaching its 2006 recruiting goal:
  • Adjust the way recruiters frame their sales pitches to young men and women. Instead of focusing mainly on financial incentives and other tangible benefits of joining the Army, recruiters are now being trained to take what some call the "consultative" approach. That means addressing the individual recruits' personal hopes and fears, rather than using the traditional hard sell.

  • Put more effort into recruiting people who have begun their college careers but not yet earned a degree, on the assumption that some would be interested in taking a hiatus to try military service. Also, target those of high school age who are being home schooled — a potential market the Army has largely ignored.

  • Make more use of what DuBois calls "lead refinements" — the use of computer technology to refine recruiters' leads on potential enlistees. Using mathematical formulas based in part on demographics, a recruiter can more easily prioritize his or her high-payoff leads and thus become more productive. Ten of the Army's 41 recruiting battalions now use this technology; the Army wants to double it to 20 or more.

  • Shift more advertising dollars from national to local markets.

  • Offer a $2,500 "finder's fee" to soldiers who refer a recruit who makes it through advanced individual training, a step beyond basic training. This has yet to be authorized by Congress.

By Robert Burns
  • Gina Pace

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