WASHINGTON – The Army National Guard (search) will fall short of its recruiting goal this year, in part because fewer active-duty soldiers are opting to switch to part-time service, the Guard's top general said Thursday.
It will be the first time since 1994 that the Guard has missed its sign-up goal.
Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum (search), chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in an interview at his Pentagon office that the shortfall for the budget year ending Sept. 30 is likely to be about 5,000 soldiers. That is a little more than 1 percent of the total Army Guard force will increase the number of recruiters and put more effort into targeting young people in high school and college who have not previously served in the military.
The other key aspect of maintaining Guard strength is what the military calls retention -- the number of Guard members who re-enlist. Blum said the Army Guard is meeting its retention goal this year and finding that re-enlistments are higher in units that deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan than those that did not.
He said he believes this reflects the sense of pride and commitment that develops in Guard units when they are deployed abroad and put in harm's way, as they are in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search). At least 114 Army National Guard soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
Blum said he sees two main reasons why the Guard is attracting fewer soldiers from the active-duty force -- a pool of recruits that in some states accounts for half of the total new Guard members in a given year.
One reason is that the active-duty Army is prohibiting soldiers in units that are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or are preparing to deploy there, from leaving the service, even if their enlistment term is up. Thus the number who might consider moving into the Guard has shrunk temporarily.
The other reason, Blum said, is that active-duty soldiers are aware that a growing number of Guard units are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus they figure there is little to be gained, in terms of reduced personal risk, by switching from active duty to the Guard.
"If you want to get away from active duty and you don't want to take a chance that you're going to deploy that quickly again," Blum said, "then you probably are going to make a clean break for a while and not join the Guard or Reserve, and so we are suffering.: