WASHINGTON – After falling well short of its recruiting goals last year, the Army has set even higher monthly targets for this summer, hoping that new financial incentives will attract high school and college graduates in the face of mounting deaths in Iraq.
From June to September, the Army will try to recruit between 8,600 and 10,400 soldiers per month -- well above the numbers achieved last year. To reach those goals, recruiters will be armed with more than catchy slogans and national pride.
A new law will allow the Army to give larger financial bonuses for enlistments and re-enlistments -- doubling the maximum payment to new active duty recruits from $20,000 to $40,000, and from $10,000 to $20,000 for reservists. It also will let older recruits sign on by raising the top age from 35 to 42. And the top re-enlistment bonus for active duty soldiers would increase from $60,000 to $90,000.
"We're going to have heavy recruiting goals in the summer, so the timing of these incentives is good," said Douglas Smith, spokesman for Army Recruiting Command. "The idea was to focus some more on those high school and college students who will graduating from school in the summer."
In fact, the goals for June and July -- as graduates leave school and begin their search for jobs -- are as much as 2,500 higher than recruitment numbers for those two months last year. That means the goal for June -- as well as April's -- is about 40 percent higher than last June's total, and the July number jumps up by about 30 percent.
Dan Goure, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, said the incentives, coupled with ongoing plans to reduce U.S. deployments to Iraq, give the Army some reasons to be hopeful. But he said it's too early to tell if they will be enough to meet the higher monthly goals.
"The money was not inconsequential before, and has become quite substantial," said Goure. "They're looking at non-college-bound high school graduates. Getting this kind of money is significant. They get a job, a steady paycheck and enough for a down payment on a brand new car."
Army officials are expected this week to announce more information on how the new incentives will be implemented.
The new law includes incentives outlined in a broad Army plan last year, including higher enlistment bonuses, increased monthly pay for recruits who agree to join specific combat brigades, and a program to allow former soldiers to re-enlist at their old rank without repeating basic training if they rejoin within four years.
While the maximum enlistment bonus for active Army recruits is $40,000, the exact total will vary based on what job is chosen and the length of the enlistment. Recruits receive their money in installments, getting some after they finish their training, report to duty and complete early portions of their service.
The new enlistment goals, however, are not set in stone. Last year, as recruiting plummeted in the spring, officials adjusted the targets downward for one month, and still fell short.
By the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the Army closed out one of its most difficult recruiting periods in decades, falling more than 6,600 recruits short of its annual goal of 80,000. It was the first shortfall since 1999, and the largest in 26 years.
As recruiting goals have increased -- from an initial total of 72,000 for 2004 to this year's 80,000 -- the Army has taken a variety of steps to beef up its program. The number of recruiters went from more than 6,000 to 8,240 for the active Army and reserves, and their sales pitch has become more targeted and refined.
The Army has also increased the percentage of recruits it will accept that fall below certain aptitude levels. Now, 4 percent of the annual recruits can score at the lowest acceptable level, compared with 2 percent. The Defense Department has set 4 percent as the maximum amount, but the individual military services can set lower limits.