KUERST FARRIS
Charlie Riedel / AP File
U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Erik Kuerst goes over paperwork with recruit Robert Farris, right, at an enlistment center in Sedalia, Mo., in this Aug. 25 photo. The Army, challenged in meeting recruitment goals, has gotten more creative with finding soldiers: going back to those who were soldiers before.
updated 11/29/2005 10:36:29 PM ET 2005-11-30T03:36:29

For former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who might be toying with the idea of getting back into uniform, the Army has a new offer: Join us and regain your old rank without repeating basic training.

It’s the latest twist in the Army’s pitch for recruits at a time when wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are making it increasingly difficult to enlist young people and meet the Army’s need for 80,000 new soldiers a year.

“It’s common sense,” says Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman. For the cost of mailing a brochure to targeted former service members, the Army can open a door that had been jammed shut before.

The Army previously had welcomed back former service members, but only under conditions that made it an unattractive proposition to most, namely that they would lose their prior rank and were required to take basic training again.

Starting this month, the Army sent mailings to 78,000 people who left the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps less than five years ago, including 7,000 officers, as first reported Monday by the private Army Times newspaper.

Signing bonuses, too
They can re-enter at their former rank if they have not been out of the service for more than four years, and they are eligible for a signing bonus of up to $19,000, depending on their skill specialty, Hilferty said.

“There is no higher calling than service in our armed forces, and this is your opportunity to answer the call to duty again,” the recruiting brochure says. “Make part of your past, part of your future,” it adds.

The Army hopes that 1,000 to 2,000 of the 78,000 accept the offer, Hilferty said. That’s a relatively small number, considering the Army is aiming to enlist 80,000 this year, after falling nearly 7,000 short last year. But any boost is welcomed by Army officials who acknowledge that 2006 is likely to be a difficult recruiting year.

Former soldiers who come back to the Army after less than five years out of uniform can skip basic training and return at their former rank, the spokesman said. Those who come after previously serving in the Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps will also retain rank but must take a four-week Warrior Transition Course at Fort Knox, Ky., which was established under another Army program to convert sailors, airmen and Marines to soldiers.

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