NEW YORK – President Bush says he's leaning toward increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps to meet the challenges posed by the War on Terror, but until Congress gives the plan a thumbs up, recruiters are in wait-and-see mode.
"It doesn't mean anything because there's nothing that's been decided," Doug Smith, spokesman at the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox in Kentucky, said when asked what the president's announcement means for recruitment efforts around the country. "Until the Department of Defense and Department of Army make a decision, it's really inappropriate for us" to comment, he added.
Democrats and many Republicans have supported a military increase, particularly at a time when forces are stretched thin with wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon wants the White House to seek an additional $99.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information provided to The Associated Press.
If Bush wants to increase troop levels by large numbers, the military might have to dangle things like larger enlistment bonuses, more money for education, and even down payments for homes. But so far, there's no indication the president would want any drastic changes on this front.
"Since they don't plan on a massive increase in a short period of time … you might be able to maintain that [enlistment] number without any additional incentives. You may push your recruiters a little bit harder," said Daniel Goure, vice president of The Lexington Institute.
If the administration wants to attain 8,000 to 9,000 recruits a month, he added, "they ought to be able to do that, without a draft, without jumping through hoops. I think that's doable."
Bush gave no specific number he'd like to see the military grow to.
The Army's goal for the fiscal 2007 year — which began in October and ends next Sept. 30 — is to recruit 80,000 active-duty personnel and 26,500 reserve soldiers. Those numbers are about the same as last year's benchmarks.
"Our mission is to recruit eligible young men and women," said Emily Gockley, chief of advertising and public affairs for the New York City Army Recruitment Battalion.
Gockley said the Army decides on various marketing and advertising plans, then it's the job of recruitment officers to carry them out. They call prospective recruits, visit them at home, and visit college campuses as part of their daily routine.
The military recruitment center that sits smack dab in the center of Time Square in New York City gets about 200 walk-in recruits each year, making it the No. 1 walk-in station in the country.
Although there are no schools or colleges in the direct area, people come from all boroughs to enlist, Gockley said. There are two Army recruiters at this station at all times, but the Marines, Air Force and Navy also are represented.
"It's really a very unique situation as far as market segmentation," she said.
Capt. Charles Jaquillard, the Army recruiting company commander for Manhattan, has 30 recruiters posted in six stations throughout the city. He said that even if his area received official word that the military was going to grow in numbers, his region would change their mode of operation to meet their goals.
"There'd be no change in how we conduct business, really, because it's an all-volunteer Army," he said.
"My recruiters tell the Army story, explain options, benefits — that's really all my recruiters do. They just try to find the best jobs for them [enlistees], what they're looking for that would be the best fit. No different strategy, nothing different than what" they usually do, he added.
"We haven't been given any type of a bigger mission."
As of Oct. 2, the Army had slightly more than 6,700 active Army recruiters around the United States, and almost 1,800 Army reserve recruiters. Smith at Fort Knox said they're on track to meet their fiscal 2007 recruitment goals.
"We've done well so far. We've achieved our recruiting missions for active Army for both October and November. We're slightly behind for the Army Reserve," he said. "Recruiting has been difficult for the past several years ... we've been recruiting in a war time … there's no real worry for any concern."
All four units of the military either met or exceeded their recruitment and retention goals for November. Four of the six reserve components met or exceeded goals for that month.
The fact that reserve recruitment isn't reaching goals at the moment also should not send up any flags, he said. "I think people are aware of the fact that Reserve units are being deployed as active units," Smith continued.
If the military is ever in a situation where it simply can't come close to meeting recruitment goals, Goure said the Pentagon could offer several incentives, including increased education benefits, alternatives to education benefits for those who don't consider themselves the higher education types, loans to start up small businesses and even health insurance to National Guardsmen.
"It's a triple whammy," Goure said, noting that an unpopular war, booming economy and the fact the military can't give everyone their job of choice now may turn some off to donning the uniform.
Many jobs simply aren't available to enlistees, he said, because, for one, the military is increasingly turning to private contractors for back support jobs like driving trucks and engineering posts.
"The space for some of those jobs, the opportunities, are no longer existing," he said.
But the size of the Pentagon's paychecks may not be that much of a deterrent to recruiting efforts.
For example, although an incoming Army private with less than two years experience may only get offered little over $15,000 in base pay — at the lowest end of the pay scale, he or she also gets bonuses, allowances and other benefits.
For a person who's not married, living on a base with no dependents, Goure said, "that's free money … why wouldn't that be attractive to a 20-year-old?"
A second lieutenant coming in with less than two years experience is offered a base pay of almost $29,000, while a captain gets offered almost $39,000 base pay. As for enlistment bonuses, active duty recruits can be eligible for up to $40,000, while reservists can be eligible for up to $20,000.
Fluent in a Middle Eastern language? Translator aides in the Army Individual Ready Reserve are eligible for a $10,000 enlistment bonus.
Recruiters could also attract people by stressing that if individuals — even those without college educations — put 15 to 20 years into the military, they can later work for a private security company and make as much as their Harvard-trained lawyer siblings, Goure said.
"Outside opportunities are tremendous, even if you're not a technical specialist — that's an eye opener," he said.
Whatever the administration and Congress decides to do, said FOX News military analyst and Ret. Army Col. David Hunt, they need to commit to the effort both financially and politically, so as to not shortchange the troops serving their country in danger zones. The military also needs to better utilize the men and women it has, he added.
"A war like this … in Iraq, it's difficult. We're doing OK getting the numbers we want now but … we'd need [to give] more money to recruiters in the military … we're going to be going after the same soldier," said Hunt, who just returned from Iraq visiting many soldiers who were on their fourth or fifth combat tour to the country.
"That's tremendous stress on them," he said. "Morale is fine. The issue is not the soldier or the Marine, the issue is political. The soldier is doing everything he can do."