Published Thursday, July 22, 2004
Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier
By ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER
New York Times
WASHINGTON, July 21 - In what critics say is another sign of increasing stress on the military, the Army has been forced to bring more new recruits immediately into the ranks to meet recruiting goals for 2004, instead of allowing them to defer entry until the next accounting year, which starts in October.
As a result, recruiters will enter the new year without the usual cushion of incoming soldiers, making it that much harder to make their quotas for 2005. Instead of knowing the names of nearly half the coming year's expected arrivals in October, as the Army did last year, or even the names of around one in three, as is the normal goal, this October the recruiting command will have identified only about one of five of the boot camp class of 2005 in advance.
Army officials say that they have been unable to defer as many enlistments as in the past because 4,500 more recruits were needed at midyear to help meet a temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers in the active duty force, which is to grow to 512,000 by 2006. The increases are largely driven by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an interview on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the Army's top personnel officer, said that the Army would use incentives like cash bonuses, educational benefits and choice base assignments to help meet its overall recruiting and re-enlistment goals next year, as it has in almost every year when it started with so few advance recruits. But he acknowledged that factors including the American casualties in Iraq and the improving job market made filling the ranks a challenge.
"I worry about this every single day - recruiting and retention," said General Hagenbeck, who commanded forces in Afghanistan in his previous assignment. "We are recruiting a volunteer force during a time of war. We've never done that before."
He also described plans to bring on as many as 1,000 new recruiters before the end of the year, and said the Army was looking to expand the role of private civilian contractors.
Still, some critics on Capitol Hill and among Army recruiters say that tapping into the bank of recruits is a telling sign that the Army is having problems filling its ranks to meet the deployments of more than 120,000 soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, the Army has said it will recruit thousands of sailors and airmen who are otherwise scheduled to leave the Navy and Air Force because of cutbacks. Starting this month, the Army may delay the retirements of soldiers with at least 20 years' experience if they are in jobs that face critical staffing shortages. The Army's top training forces at Fort Polk, La., and Fort Irwin, Calif., are being deployed for the first time, to Iraq, raising concerns among some officers that troops will not be given the most strenuous preparation possible before they leave the United States.
"The Army is stretched dangerously thin," Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, in a hearing on Wednesday.
"We are growing the Army as fast as we can," General Schoomaker said later in the hearing.
In interviews with recruiting officials, as well as in internal memos and e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times, this pressure to meet recruiting goals is evident.
"Guys the mission is at risk!" Col. Peter M. Vangjel, a deputy commander of the Army Recruiting Command, wrote to battalion commanders and top enlisted soldiers in an April 21 e-mail message. "We can NOT miss this mission. I need your full support."
Colonel Vangjel continued, "The CG is the next guy to talk to you about this," referring to the commanding general of the recruiting command, Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle. "Don't let it happen."
But in a June 23 memo to the same senior recruiters, Colonel Vangjel expressed disappointment, saying that in the previous several months, the command "experienced a downward production trend."
Army officials disclosed Wednesday that none of the Army's five recruiting brigades met their missions between March and July, forcing the service to tap into its bank of recruits to make up the difference.
General Hagenbeck said that Army recruiting was shaped by a number of intangibles, most notably the economy, which attracts possible recruits into the private sector when it is strong and sends them toward the military during a downturn.
General Hagenbeck also described the critical role played by parents, teachers and coaches as to whether high school graduates consider Army service - recruiters call them "the influencers." Fears that these influencers would no longer endorse Army service were raised in April, he said, when the military's public standing sustained severe blows.
An Army survey conducted as the nation was rocked by pictures of military police abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison - which coincided with a spike in combat deaths - raised concerns that the "influencers were drawing back," he said.
A month later, though, those negative perceptions had diminished, the Army found, and there is no solid evidence that recruiting will be affected over time, the general said.
Once soldiers initially enlist, they usually wait one month to one year before they formally enlist and are shipped to basic training. As of June 30, there were 2,260 recruits in the delayed entry program, down from 12,236 recruits a year ago.
By dipping into this personnel bank, some recruiting officials said, the Army is eating its seed corn. "They are stealing from the future to accomplish their current accession mission," said one Army recruiting official, referring to the enlisted recruits sent to basic training.
Some congressional officials said, though, that the Army was making a smart move. "But they must be prepared to put additional manpower and funding against recruiting to achieve the increased recruiting objectives and to restore the D.E.P. at the same time," said one senior House Republican aide, using the program's acronym.
General Hagenbeck said the Army was doing that. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Army had moved hundreds of recruiters into other jobs, as the service was easily filling slots. In the current environment, General Hagenbeck said, 100 to 200 civilian recruiters will staff recruiting stations and seek out enlistees, and 650 to 1,000 soldiers will be moved into recruiter slots before the year's end.
General Hagenbeck said that all 10 of the Army's active-duty divisions had met their re-enlistment goals, but it is coming at a steep price. The Army is offering re-enlistment bonuses up to $10,000 a soldier. The retention budget has nearly doubled in five years, to a request for $204 million in the proposed budget for 2005.
Army officials and members of Congress say that much of the data on recruiting and retention trends are anecdotal, and may remain so at least through the next troop rotation to Iraq, when soldiers could leave the service as they emerge from a "stop loss, stop move" order that held them in their units for the duration of their deployments.