Video: Too few good men

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updated 6/9/2005 2:27:59 PM ET 2005-06-09T18:27:59

Even after reducing its target for May, the Army missed its recruiting goal by about 25 percent, according to the New York Times.  The shortfall would have been even bigger if the Army did not lower its goal for the month. With no public notice, the they lowered its May recruit numbers from 8,050 down to 6,700 recruits.

The official numbers will not be released until Friday.  But the Army is expected to announce that it met only 75 percent of its recruiting goal for May.  The Associated Press reports that the Army appears likely to fall short of its full-year recruiting goal for the first time since 1999.  Prior to February, the last time the Army had missed a monthly recruiting goal was May 2000.  The U.S. Army National Guard and Army Reserve have been fighting this increasing battle for the past few months.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: According to The New York Times, the Army‘s original aim was to get 8,050 new recruits in May.  It then scaled that number back, without making that news public, to 6,700.  But it only got 5,000.  That‘s 63 percent of the original goal, 75 percent of the revised goal.  Even that doesn‘t guarantee that there will be 5,000 new soldiers ready for combat.  In 2004, 14 percent, nearly, of all the new recruits dropped out after initial training.  And that number jumped to more than 17 percent this year.

One of the solutions, as reported by “The Wall Street Journal” today, the Army is trying to retain more of the GIs it usually kicks out.  The guys, as the “Journal” quoted one battalion commander, quote, “on weight control, school no-shows, drug users, etc.”

I‘m joined by retired U.S. Army colonel and now MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs.

Good evening, Jack.

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  OK, we started with slight misses on the recruiting quotas, then big misses, then a moratorium, a one-day moratorium to remind recruiters what was legal and what wasn‘t.  Now they were delaying the numbers, hiding the numbers.  Besides the obvious, that people are not signing up, is there something wrong with the system that we‘re not recognizing?

JACOBS:  Well, I think probably so.  But that‘s the least of our worries.  Our biggest worry is that we just can‘t recruit the numbers that we need.  Even the Marine Corps, who typically has no problem recruiting people, has had difficulty the last few months or so.

Not only that, we rely so heavily on Guard, National Guard, and Reserve troops, because they provide us with the military occupational specialties that are in short supply in active duty ranks, and we require them there for the Guard and the Reserve people to perform extended duty in Southwest Asia.

If we rely so heavily on them, and their recruitment goals are not being met, we‘re going to have a very big problem a couple of years down the road.

OLBERMANN:  To speculate about that time, Army recruiting down 42 percent in April, they lower the quota by 18 percent for May, still miss the quota by a quarter.  Can you do the rough math here?  At what point do we run out of the personnel required just for the commitments we already have?

JACOBS:  Well, I think we‘re probably at the limit now.  I think we may have if—another six months or so before things really get dire, and something significant is going to have to be done.

It‘s difficult, I think, for the Defense Department to come up with solutions, however.  They‘re going to have to do things like you suggested earlier, keeping people we would otherwise throw out, lower the standards for people we do bring in.

You know, we‘ve had an all-volunteer army.  We‘ve had nothing but high school graduates, fairly high standards, for the duration of the all-volunteer Army.  And now we‘re at a point where we‘re going to have to lower the standards if we want to make the numbers, and it‘s going to be extremely difficult to do so without turning the Army into what it was in the ‘70s, after the war in the Vietnam, a really ineffective fighting force.

And that‘s unfortunate, for two reasons.  First of all, I don‘t like to see my Army denigrated like that.  And secondly, we have enormous worldwide commitments that we will not able to satisfy with that kind of force.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and additionally, we might wind up with Lee Martin and the Dirty Dozen, the way they‘re talking this way.

JACOBS: Well, we had that.  When I was in the Army in the ‘70s, after Vietnam, after we came back from Vietnam, we had an Army that was greatly reduced in size, and not very good at what it did.  We had an Army of Dirty Dozen people.

OLBERMANN:  Last question, during the presidential campaign last year, the Republicans insisted, no draft, never, no draft.  Let‘s take them at their word.  But if there‘s no draft, what is there?  Where does the military find the personnel it needs?  Or what changes need to be done regarding those commitments?

JACOBS: Well, we‘ve already raised the sign-on bonus to as much as $20,000.  I guess we could raise it more.  We do have some active duty people who could be used in commitments that we have in Southwest Asia, in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We have 37,000 troops still in Korea.  Ostensibly, they‘re there only as a tripwire.  All we really need is one American soldier there to die if the North Koreans decide to come across the DMZ again.

So we could deploy, oh, I guess the better part of a division, maybe two-thirds to a complete division, from Korea to Southwest Asia, and make it part of the rotation.  We have some people in Europe still who could be moved, maybe 100,000 or so, and we could rotate some of them through.  We ostensibly don‘t need them in Europe any more.  The Russians are not coming across the Fulda Gap.  And we have some units in the United States that haven‘t rotated through.

But at the end of the day, we‘re probably about six months away before we have a situation that‘s something of a crisis, and we‘re going to have to think up novel solutions right now if we‘re going to avoid that six months from now.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com.

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