The Army said it lowered the May target to "adjust for changing market conditions," knowing that the difference will have to be made up in the months ahead.
The Army also missed its monthly targets in April, March and February — each month worse than the one before. In February it fell 27 percent short; in March the gap was 31 percent, and in April it was 42 percent.
"It's like having a persistent drought," said Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the private Lexington Institute. "At some point when you have drought conditions you have to institute water rationing, and that's what you potentially face in the military if it goes on long enough. You would get to a stage where you don't have enough people to staff your organizations."
These recruiting statistics appear to indicate that the Army will likely to fall short of its full-year recruiting goal for the first time since 1999, raising longer-term questions about a military embroiled in its first protracted wars since switching from the draft to a volunteer force 32 years ago.
Many young people and their parents have grown more wary of Army service because of the likelihood of being dispatched on combat tours to Iraq or Afghanistan, opinion polls show. U.S. troops are dying at a rate of two a day in Iraq, more than two years after President Bush declared that major combat operations had ended.
The Army says today's economy offers attractive alternatives to many high school and college graduates.
Prior to February, the last time the Army had missed a monthly recruiting goal was May 2000.
The Army National Guard and Army Reserve are even farther behind in recruiting this year.
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, spokesman for the Army's chief of personnel, said in an interview that despite the recent setbacks the Army remains cautiously optimistic that it will make up the lost ground this summer — traditionally the most fruitful period of the year for recruiters — and reach the full-year goal of 80,000 enlistees.
"One number matters: 80,000," Hilferty said. "The Army's fiscal 2005 goal was, is and remains 80,000 recruits."
Others, speaking privately, said the official optimism is sagging rapidly. They note that with only four months left in the budget year, the Army is at barely 50 percent of its goal. Recruiters would have to land more than 9,760 young men and women a month, on average, to reach the 80,000 target by the end of September.