U.S. Army Recruiting Station
Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
U.S. Army recruiting stations like this one in Times Square in New York City have been unable to enlist as many men and women as the Army had hoped for in recent months.
msnbc.com news services
updated 3/23/2005 4:57:17 PM ET 2005-03-23T21:57:17

The Army expects to miss its recruiting goals again this month and next, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said Wednesday, and that's led to some creative thinking: a sales pitch that appeals to the patriotism of parents, and raising the enlistment age for Army National Guard and Reserve recruits.

In February the Army missed its monthly recruiting goal by 27 percent. That was the first time it had fallen short for any month since May 2000, and it underscored the difficulty the Army faces in signing up young men and women during time of war.

The Army is forecasting that all three elements — active, Guard and Reserve — will fall short of their targets for March and April. That means they will have to make up the lost ground this summer — traditionally the best recruiting season — to meet their full-year goals.

At his first Pentagon news conference since becoming the Army’s top civilian official in November, Harvey said the Army doesn't expect to meet its monthly recruiting goals for March or April either.

Orders to get innovative
Harvey said he was not particularly concerned about monthly results, so long as the Army reaches its full-year target of enlisting 80,000 people. It has not missed its full-year goal since 1999.

“I’m clearly not going to give up,” Harvey said. “At this stage we still have six months to go” before the recruiting year ends Sept. 30. “I’ve challenged our human resource people to get as innovative as they can. And even as we speak we’ve got a number of new ideas.”

One of those is designed to persuade more parents to steer their children to the Army.

“We’re going to appeal to patriotism,” he said.

That might be done through a new advertising campaign, he said. He also is encouraging more members of Congress as well as senior Army leaders and Army boosters to spend time in local communities touting the benefits of military service.

The Army also has increased the number of recruiters on the street by 33 percent and is offering bigger signup bonuses. Last week the Army announced that the National Guard and Reserve were raising the maximum age for recruits from 34 to 39 to expand the pool of potential enlistees. The regular Army could not raise the maximum age without congressional approval.

Some have suggested the Army could ease its recruiting crunch if the Pentagon altered its “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy that permits gay men and women to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation to themselves. Harvey, however, said he opposes changing the policy.

“I don’t see any need to change it,” he said.

No draft
Whether that boosts enlistment numbers or not, Harvey said he sees no chance of a military draft.

“The ‘D’ word is the farthest thing from my mind,” the former defense company executive told a Pentagon news conference, his first since becoming the Army’s top civilian official last November.

Because of the military manpower strains caused by simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some in Congress have raised the possibility of re-instituting the draft, although there is a strong consensus against it among Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the military chiefs.

This is the first time the United States has been in a sustained period of combat since the all-volunteer force was introduced in 1973. The Air Force and Navy, which have relatively smaller roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, have no recruiting problems, but the Army and Marines are hard pressed.

Change to Individual Ready Reserve
In a related matter, the Army said more people in the Individual Ready Reserve — those no longer in uniform and not obligated to train — are going to be hearing from the Army in the weeks ahead. The Army has revised upward the number of IRR soldiers it plans to put on active duty, from the 4,402 announced last summer to 4,653. Of those given mobilization orders so far, 370 have failed to report for duty, according to Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman. An additional 2,229 have asked for delays in their reporting dates or for exemptions.

Harvey also disclosed that the Army is “looking at” changing its policy on having more than one sibling in a combat zone at the same time. He did not say how the policy might be altered, and he declined to say more about the subject, other than to indicate that it came up when he visited the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where wounded U.S. troops are treated.

The current policy is that if one of two siblings in a combat zone is killed, the Army will consider removing the remaining one from the combat zone if the surviving soldier or his parents request it, according to spokeswoman Hart. She said she was not aware of any planned change.

Enlistment age raised
On Tuesday, the Army said it will also raise the maximum enlistment age for National Guard and Reserve recruits from 34 to 39.

The move, described as a three-year test program, is designed to help the National Guard and Reserve meet their recruitment goals at a time when the Iraq war and other pressures are discouraging young people from joining.

The Guard missed its recruiting goal for 2004, and both the Guard and Reserve are lagging behind their goals so far this year.

The age ceiling for the regular Army is set by law at 34, but Pentagon spokeswoman Ellen Krenke said it was possible that after the three-year test ends the Pentagon might request an enlistment age for Army reservists even older than 39.

Physical standards will not change for either the regular Army or Guard and Reserve.

'Maturity' valued
For the Guard and Reserve, the age limit is set by policy and can be changed without approval from Congress, said Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman. A person one day short of his or her 40th birthday is now eligible to join the Guard or Reserve; under the old system the maximum age was 34 years and 364 days.

“Anecdotally, our recruiters have been telling us for years that we’ve had people who are otherwise qualified but over the age limit who have attempted to enlist,” Robbins said. “There are physically fit, health-conscious individuals who can make a positive contribution to our national defense.”

Census figures show that the change will add about 22 million people to the Army Guard and Reserve recruiting pool. The Army said in a statement that it has not forecast how much this will add to recruit totals.

“Experience has shown that older recruits who can meet the physical demands of military service generally make excellent soldiers based on their maturity, motivation, loyalty and patriotism,” the Army said.

The Pentagon has relied heavily on part-time Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers summoned from civilian life to maintain troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roughly 45 percent of U.S. troops currently deployed for those wars are reservists.

The Army National Guard missed its recruiting goal for the 2004 fiscal year and trails its year-to-date 2005 targets. The Army Reserve missed January and February goals and is lagging its target for 2005. The regular Army missed its target for February and trails its annual goal.

The Army Reserve is made up of federal soldiers who can be mobilized from civilian life for active duty. National Guard soldiers also serve under the control of state governors for roles like disaster relief in their home states.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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