The Army started off the recruiting year with the lowest number of recruits signed up for Basic Training since the United States military became an all-volunteer force in 1973. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, told Pentagon reporters on Wednesday that the diminished number of delayed enlistment recruits in the pike will make it extremely difficult to reach the goals for 2008.
For the last two years, the goal of 80,000 new recruits has barely been met. To meet the numbers, qualified OCS candidates were not informed of the option (even though the Army is experiencing a paucity of Lieutenants and Captains). Additionally, the Army has been forced to admit a staggering percentage of recruits on waivers. In FY 2006, fully 17% of all recruits were admitted under waivers for psychological, criminal and health problems. Nearly one in five who were actively recruited, would not have gotten five minutes of a recruiters time five years ago.
In a perfect world, the recruiting year starts with 20,000 recruits, or 25% of the yearly goal, in the pike and scheduled for Basic. The remaining 60,000/75% are to be recruited over the course of the fiscal year. Last summer, the Army toted the board and realized they were not going to meet their 2007 numbers unless drastic measures were taken. Over 1000 former recruiters who had fulfilled their recruiting duties were sent back to the sales floor. Additionally, the Army instituted recruitment bonuses. Recruits willing to leave for basic training by the end of September (to bolster 2007 numbers) were offered healthy $20,000 bonuses – a years salary in many cases.
As a result of rushing recruits into uniform to meet the 2007 goals, the Army started this recruiting year with less than 7400 recruits, or a mere 9% of the 2008 goal, in the queue. “It’s going to be another tough recruiting year,” said General Wallace.
The bonus program, which began July 25, was part of a last-minute push by the Army to meet its year-end recruiting goal, after having fallen short on recruiting numbers in May and June. It had the effect of getting many of the recruits who signed up after July 25 into basic training sooner than they would have otherwise, thus reducing the number with entry dates after Oct. 1.
“That is of concern for us because the delayed entry program gives us guaranteed enlistees to meter out across the year,” Wallace said. Without that cushion to begin the recruiting year, recruiters are going to have to sign up enough people to meet the existing goal as well as replenish the pool for next year.
Coupled with the recruiting problems are retention problems. The backbone of any military is the mid-level NCO’s, and they are not reupping. Instead, worn out by repeated deployments and feeling a sense of futility about the misadventure in Iraq that has cost nearly 4000 American lives, they are opting to leave the service. These losses in leadership will undoubtedly haunt the military for the next two decades.
Without top-notch NCO’s the force suffers. They fill a unique role, because they manage both up and down the chain of command. They transmit orders to the troops they supervise, and they have great influence over the decisions made by the officers they serve.
NCO’s simultaneously prepare their units to complete their mission and know the personal pertinents of their personnel. They know whose kids are struggling to adjust, whose marriage is rocky, who is expecting a baby, whose mother is ill, who has an in-law “vacationing” on their couch and clueless about why they can’t come play. They have the standing to pull a green Lieutenant aside and tell him or her the real score.
These middle managers are especially important in wartime. Not the least of all among reasons: seasoned NCO’s keep Leiutenants alive long enough to become seasoned officers. There are more Sergeants leading Soldiers and Marines down dangerous alleys and on patrol than there are Lieutenants and Captains.
These are the enlisted personnel that an Army facing a three-decade rebuilding process after the folly of destabilizing and occupying Iraq needs to retain most, but they are not staying. Instead they are leaving in droves. And Sergeants who leave after 8, 12, 15 years in service are not G.I.’s who can be replaced at the local recruiting station.