Thursday, July 05, 2007

Army National Guard passes goals for new recruits

By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY New recruiting techniques and appeals to patriotism have helped the National Guard achieve its highest level of troops since 2001. The Guard, which has struggled to fill its ranks during the war in Iraq, pins its success on a new recruitment program. It includes paying a bonus to Guard members who signed up a recruit. The regular Army and Army Reserves have adopted a version called "Every Soldier a Recruiter." The Army is meeting its recruitment goals. Many Guard members, who are not full-time uniformed recruiters, served overseas and told recruits they, too, would probably be deployed "in defense of America," said Col. Mike Jones, chief of recruiting and retention for the Army Guard. "We thought the candid approach would depress our enlistment," Jones said. "Rather … that strategy had more people joining." Through May, the Guard had 351,400 troops, the most since November 2001, according to data provided by the National Guard Bureau. It's also the first time the Guard has exceeded its target of 350,000 troops for three consecutive months since May 2002. Wednesday, President Bush paid a Fourth of July visit to the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg, calling for "more patience, more courage and more sacrifice" in Iraq. Guard leaders overhauled recruiting practices in 2004, when it became clear that recruitment problems "weren't temporary," Jones said. In response, the Guard: • Started a "buddy program," in which members earn $2,000 for every recruit they sign up and who enters boot camp. The Guard says the program has brought in 35,000 enlistments since December 2005. • Sent recruiters to more high school sporting events, NASCAR races and shopping malls. Pacheco says less chance of serving overseas probably had an impact on retention. In the three years the Guard fell short of its manpower target it also saw its largest deployments, peaking at 98,493 in 2005. That year Guard membership bottomed out at 333,177 members. This year 44,723 members have been deployed. The Guard's message also changed, from promoting educational opportunities to emphasizing the warrior-soldier, says military sociologist David Segal of the University of Maryland. The new recruiters had experience in Iraq or Afghanistan so they could talk to parents "honestly and frankly about the risk," Jones says. He says that helped young men and women in decision-making. The results were surprising, said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a think tank on military and education issues.

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