At an Army recruiting office near Miami, 19-year-old Howard Bullard found a warm reception from recruiters eager to sign him up.
"They told me about the GI Bill, the military GI Bill, so I could go to school while I'm in the military," Bullard says.
Last year, the Army met its goal of 80,000 recruits, but faced criticism it did so by lowering standards:
- Recruitment age was raised from 35 to 42;
- aptitude, educational and physical requirements were reduced; and
- more than 8,000 recruits were given "moral waivers" for past criminal misconduct or drug use.
"Every year, we're putting three to four brigades of privates into the Army who are the wrong people," says Gen. Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army (ret.) and an NBC military analyst.
But the Army argues there's been no drop in quality.
Russell Dilling joined the Army this summer, the day before his 42nd birthday. While basic training was tough physically, Dilling argues his age was actually a plus.
"I was an inspiration to many of them, because there were a lot who didn't know if they could make it through," Dilling says.
To meet its current goals, the Army has already added thousands of recruiters. The Army is also offering signing bonuses of up to $40,000 and has gone digital, with recruiting ads online at sites like MySpace.com.
But even Army officials admit to substantially increase the force could take a long time.
'Optimistically, we could add 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers per year," says U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker.
And training them will be expensive —an estimated $1.2 billion for every 10,000 recruits.