The Pentagon announced Friday that the Army met its recruiting goal for August, which a senior Army official said makes it virtually certain that the service will achieve its aim of signing up 80,000 new soldiers for the full recruiting year, which ends Sept. 30. Last year the Army fell short for the first time since 1999.
"We're reaching out a lot better," said the official, Maj. Gen. Sean Byrne, director of military personnel management. The Army is making better use of the Internet, for example, to reach more young people, he said.
The Army also has put about one-third more recruiters on the street, and Congress approved new financial incentives for enlistees, including signing bonuses for some slots of as much as $40,000. The Army also began allowing people as old as 42 to enter the service; the maximum age previously was 35.
Through August, the active-duty Army had signed up 72,997 new soldiers, nearly 3,000 above its year-to-date target. The Army National Guard was about 200 below its target of 63,240, while the Army Reserve, which had a particularly weak performance in August, was almost 2,000 below its year-to-date target of 33,124.
For August alone, the active Army topped the 10,000 mark for the second month in a row. It was the 15th consecutive month the active Army has met or exceeded its monthly goal. It missed four months in a row in early 2005, and some questioned whether the Army had developed a chronic and debilitating problem.
The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy all achieved their August goals and are on target to meet their full-year targets, the Pentagon said.
Summer is typically the strongest recruiting season.
The Army's ability to recruit is particularly important now because it is trying to grow in size, as part of a plan to build a larger number of combat brigades for use in Iraq, Afghanistan and potentially elsewhere. Without that growth, existing brigades would be rotating so often on overseas combat tours that the Army would risk alienating soldiers and their families, thus eroding their willingness to re-enlist.
Even now, after increasing the active-duty Army by about 10,000 soldiers this year, to about 501,000, soldiers generally get less than two years at home between one-year tours in Iraq.
Byrne said the Iraq war continues to be a drag on recruiting, and he said unpublished Army research surveys show people of enlistment age are increasingly disinclined to join. Similarly, adults who influence the choices of potential recruits — like parents, teachers and coaches — are less inclined to recommend military service.
But the Army has managed to overcome those negative factors by using more innovative techniques to reach young people, Byrne said. Recruiters, for example, are available at all hours on an Army Web site chat room. Those who indicate a strong interest are then offered a chance to meet face-to-face with a recruiter. That has proven more productive, Byrne said, than traditional tactics like waiting for people to walk into a recruiting station.
The Army also has accepted a larger number of recruits whose score on a standardized aptitude test is at the lower end of the acceptable range, and it has granted waivers to permit the enlistment of people with criminal records that otherwise would disqualify them. The Army says it does not grant waivers if there is a pattern of criminal misconduct or for convictions of drug trafficking or any sexually violent crimes.