WASHINGTON – All branches of the Armed Forces met or exceeded their recruitment goals for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and the Army expects to accelerate its expansion in the next two years, top brass at the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters that the Army recruited 80,407 new soldiers this year, exceeding its goal of 80,000. The Navy recruited 37,361 just over its goal of 37,000; the Marines recruited 35,603, skimming the top of its 35,576 objective. The Air Force exactly met its new enlistment rate of 27,801.
All services met their recruiting standards except for the Army in one category — percentage of new recruits with high school diplomas. The Army's goal is that 90 percent of new recruits have a high school diploma, but in fiscal year 2007, only 79 percent had earned their diploma, a number that Chu points out is a reflection of the national average.
Chu acknowledged that the number of waivers granted to individuals requiring special exceptions were at the high-end of the historic average. Waivers are given to new recruits for anything from health reasons to criminal history.
Chu said that to increase the Army numbers by 74,000 by 2010 — to 547,000 active duty, reservists and National Guard — recruiting goals in the next two years will have to be higher than the 80,000 set for this year. He warned that an increased force can only be achieved through improved retention, recruitment and lowering attrition rates. The Army had hoped to increase its numbers to help relieve the current strain on the forces because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The big challenge to us is that influence or attitudes go south again in a major way … if the country is not willing to have a large military for the United States, then, yes, we will have trouble recruiting,” he said.
Gates said in a memo reported by the Associated Press Tuesday that the troop acceleration is expected to cost $2.63 billion. Part of that cost is the result of increased signing and retention bonuses that can reach upwards of $150,000. Retention bonuses alone cost the Pentagon $660 million this fiscal year, the Army Times reported in September.
Chu stressed that waivers were given to recruits whose criminal pasts were limited. Most of the recruits exempted were let in because charges against them were dropped or they had been convicted of misdemeanors, not serious crimes. Of the 15 percent of recruits who needed a waiver last year, said Chu, 87 percent were because of misdemeanor convictions.
Marijuana use also requires a waiver if a Marine recruit answers “yes” to the question of whether he or she has used pot once. The Army requires a waiver if the recruit admits to using the drug twice.
The military has been under pressure to keep up the number of recruits, a challenge that has been tough to meet as redeployments have strained existing forces. Speaking to the Association of the United States Army on Tuesday, Army Gen. George Casey said an overall increase in forces will extend time for troops between deployments and bolster other stressed areas.
He, too, acknowledged it would not be easy. “It will require a total force effort if we’re going to expand more rapidly and maintain the quality so essential to our long term success.” Retention is also key, Gen. Casey says, pointing to a new program that would give bonuses of $2,000 to any National Guard soldier who brings in a recruit to active duty.
In related news, the Army News Service reported last week that Basic Combat Training will expand from nine to 10 weeks to give extra time to train and adapt new recruits to Army standards in hopes of preventing attrition, or recruits leaving the service before their training is over.
FOX News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.