Army leaders, struggling to meet recruitment goals in the midst of a long and unpopular war in Iraq, are quietly working out final details of a program that would give bonuses of $2,000 per recruit to any National Guard soldier who brings somebody into the active duty Army.
Army Secretary Pete Geren disclosed the plan in an interview with The Associated Press, calling it an innovative effort to get broader reach into local communities.
The Guard members, Geren said, are "much more in contact with the civilian population than the active duty soldier is. So they give us reach into a larger segment of the community on a personal level, a one to one basis, than we get through our recruiting relationships."
National Guard "recruiting assistants" already earn bonuses for signing up new members of the Guard, and one former Marine was so successful that he earned nearly $100,000.
Under the new plan, a recruit would join the Guard but indicate that they are intending to shift to active duty. After they finish basic training they would either sign up for 30, 36 or 48 months in the active Army, or change their mind and simply stay in the Guard.
The Army secretary said the impact of the new Guard program would be felt next year when Guard soldiers will "become an important part of the active recruiting force."
The secretary says "they would recruit soldiers into the active component," adding that the recruits would then have continuing obligations in the reserves.
The Army initially expects to gain about 1,600 recruits next year through what they're calling the "Active First" program, according to Lt. Col. Ron Walls, chief of enlisted recruiting and retention for the Army National Guard.
Guard officials see the new plan as a boost for them, even though it could remove soldiers from the Army Guard ranks and shift them into active duty positions for 30 to 48 months.
"It's a win-win for both the Army and the National Guard," said Walls. While the active Army gets a new soldier, "we gain some (recruiting) growth immediately, and in the long run we gain a higher readiness level."
Under the proposal, recruits who come in under the Active First program will be counted toward the Guard's recruitment goals. Also, the active Army would pay the bonus to the Guard soldier that got the new recruit.
Walls said that, in the end, "unless (the recruits) want to make a career out of active duty, they will return to the Guard."
Guard officials also see this as a way to reach people who might be open to a military career, but are looking for a full-time job, not just a part-time Guard position.
The program will be launched in the coming months after final details are hammered out.
Guard members who have gone through the recruiting assistant program, receive a $1,000 bonus for each person they sign up and another $1,000 when the recruit leaves for basic training. More than 100,000 Guard soldiers have gone through the recruiter program.
The program has been a financial boon for some Guard soldiers.
"There have been some very successful recruiter assistants, who started out doing it just as an opportunity, then went part time," said Walls. Some have made just $2,000, but others have quit their full-time jobs and "have done exceptionally well and can make a living doing it."
One of those is Sgt. Dana Kline, a former Marine who is now in the Georgia Army Guard and earlier this year had earned nearly $100,000 in bonuses as a recruiting assistant.
Geren said that the active duty Army is also beefing up its own bonus program that essentially trains thousands of soldiers to also be recruiters.
Both the Guard and the active duty Army have struggled with recruiting, as the U.S. heads into its seventh year at war, starting with the post 9/11 campaign in Afghanistan. More than 3,700 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war alone.
After failing to meet recruiting goals for two consecutive months, the Army hit its target for July, and is on track to meet its annual goal of 80,000 recruits for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
Geren said the Army and the National Guard are currently ahead of their year-to-date goal, and the Reserves are at 99 percent of their goal.
But, he acknowledged that it will still be a difficult road to recruit the full 19,100 soldiers needed in August and September in order to meet that 80,000 target.
The Guard has narrowly met its goals for the past two months, but fell short in May.