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Challenges in military recruitment

While the battles in Iraq can be tough, one of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. military today may belong to military recruiters.

While the battles in Iraq can be tough, one of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. military today may belong to soldiers like Sergeant Jim O‘Farrel.  O’Farrel is an army recruiter.

He has been warning for months that enthusiasm for military service has dropped.  And now official numbers released by the army confirm it. Last month, the army missed its recruiting goal by 42 percent. It is the third month in a row the Army has fallen short. 

Other military services are having problems as well. Despite a stepped-up advertising campaign by the Marine Corps, that service missed a key recruitment goal for the fourth month in a row.  And the succession of monthly downturns are the first for the Marines in a decade.  Marine Corps officials say the numbers are misleading, because springtime, with high schoolers waiting to make decisions about college, is always a challenging time of year. 

And, for weeks, Pentagon official have been pointing out that all of the service goals this year are higher. 

“The force we went to war with after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to protect this country, was the force that was designed for the Cold War,” says Gen. Richard Myers, joint chiefs chairman.  “We have much different needs today. “

Still, military officials acknowledge that Iraq is having an impact. The Pentagon has boosted enlistment bonuses to up to $15,000.  And with the military downsizing parts of the Navy and Air Force, some sailors and airmen are being offered incentives to transfer into the army. 

But even that program, Operation Blue to Green, is sputtering. The annual goal is 3,500 soldiers. But, after six months, it has produced less than 200. And because of the demands in Iraq, concerns are growing about the military‘s ability to meet other potential missions that might crop up around the world. 

It means even more pressure on military recruiters, who are now trying even more aggressive methods that some young men and women say have gone too far. 

David Shuster reports for Hardball, which airs weeknights, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.