WASHINGTON – The Army National Guard (search), a cornerstone of the U.S. force in Iraq, missed its recruiting goal for at least the ninth straight month in June and is nearly 19,000 soldiers below its authorized strength, military officials said Monday.
The Army Guard was seeking 5,032 new soldiers in June but signed up only 4,337, a 14 percent shortfall, according to statistics released Monday by the Pentagon. It is more than 10,000 soldiers behind its year-to-date goal of almost 45,000 recruits, and has missed its recruiting target during at least 17 of the last 18 months.
"The recruiting environment remains difficult in terms of economic conditions and alternatives," the Army said in a statement released Monday. "We are concerned about meeting the fiscal year 2005 recruiting missions, but we are confident that our recruiting initiatives will take hold and the American public will respond."
Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau (search), said that despite the shortfall, the service is still able to meet its commitments to the Pentagon as well as to state governors, who call on the Guard during disasters and other emergencies.
Some governors have complained about shortages of troops and equipment in their Guard units, prompting the Guard to set a goal of keeping half of each state's Guard forces at home at any given time.
The Pentagon (search) has already significantly reduced its use of all Guard and reserve forces in the last two years. In April 2003, during the height of the Iraq invasion, some 224,000 of them across all the services were mobilized for all federal missions both at home and overseas; that figure now stands at 138,000, according to Pentagon statistics.
Harrison acknowledged the heavy use of the Guard in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan has affected recruiting efforts, but noted that the service is ahead of its goals in retaining soldiers who have the option to get out.
"We have folks that are coming back from long periods of time in Iraq and Afghanistan who are reenlisting," he said.
Guard troops make up more than one-third of the soldiers in Iraq, numbering six brigades plus a division headquarters. In the next rotation of troops, to take place over the next two years, the Guard's portion of the total force in Iraq is expected to drop substantially as newly reorganized active-duty Army units come on-line and take up more duties there, officials said.
In total, the Army Guard has about 331,000 soldiers, 94.5 percent of its authorized strength of 350,000, officials said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said the Army Guard last made its monthly goal in September 2004, when it exceeded its target by 27 recruits. The last time it made its goal before that was December 2003.
Harrison, however, said the Army Guard had not met its monthly recruiting goal for 20 straight months, since October 2003. Officials could not immediately explain the discrepancy.
The Army Guard also missed its annual recruiting goals for 2003 and 2004, Krenke said.
The entire Army is suffering from recruiting problems, but the other components of the service — the active-duty force and the Reserve — made their goals for June. Both, however, remain well behind their annual goals, which they measure from October 2004 to September 2005.
The regular Army has recruited 47,121 soldiers, or 86 percent of its goal of 54,935 for this point in the year. It is trying to reach 80,000 by the end of September. Officials are becoming less hopeful they will make it, even though the summer is considered the high season for recruiting, as recent high school graduates look for jobs.
To deal with the problem, the Army has increased the number of recruiters in its ranks, and augmented incentives for those signing up.
"We think these adjustments will begin to take hold in the upcoming months," the Army statement said.
The Army Reserve has recruited 15,540 soldiers, or 79 percent of its goal of 19,753 at this point in the year.
All three components of the Army are ahead on their efforts to retain current soldiers. Officials credit that to a desire on the part of the troops to finish the mission of making Iraq a stable democracy.
The only other arm of the military that missed its June recruiting goal was the Navy Reserve, which fell 8 percent short and remains the same percentage behind its annual goal of 8,733 recruits.
The active Navy, Air Force and Marines made their monthly goals, and are at or ahead of their year-to-date targets, the Pentagon said.
The Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve made their June goals; of those, the Air Force Reserve and Marine Reserve are at or ahead of their year-to-date goals. The Air National Guard is 17 percent behind its year-to-date goal of 7,619 recruits.
The Air Force and Navy are seeing far less action in Iraq and Afghanistan than their counterparts in the ground combat forces of the Army and Marines, who have suffered most of the casualties.