Attrition: U.S. Army Meets Recruiting Goals Again


October 4, 2007: The U.S. Army again achieved its recruiting goal (80,000 new recruits) for fiscal 2007 (that ended on September 30). That will also be the goal for 2008 as well, unless the army is given permission, and several billion dollars, to speed up their expansion of 13.5 percent (from 482,000 to 547,000), by doing that in four years instead of five.

The army recruiting effort is unprecedented for wartime. Never in American history has a war this long, been sustained with only volunteers. Party politics and media concentration on that has prevented the story behind this from getting out much. There are several reasons for the army recruiting success. The principal ones are;

@ Patriotism. Many of the troops that join up believe that the nation is at war and must be defended. Then, those who go to Iraq or Afghanistan see for themselves why the wars are being fought. The best recruiting aid has turned out to be a recently recruited, or discharged, soldier. That's a story most media don't want to cover, because it contradicts so much else that is reported as news. But for army recruiters, this patriotism and word of mouth are key ingredients in recruiting success.

@ Low casualties. Although the media gets obsessed with U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reporting tends to ignore the fact that those casualties are the lowest in history, any army's history. Put simply, troops are half as likely to be killed or wounded in Iraq, as they would have been in Vietnam or World War II. A combination of better equipment, training and leadership made it happen. These are trends that have been going on for decades. The lower casualties make a big difference, especially for troops who have gone back to Iraq or Afghanistan several times. But the recruiters know that there's enough real danger there to attract young men looking for some adventure, but not so much that most potential recruits would be put off by it. "Extreme" (very dangerous) sports have become much more popular in the last few decades, and for many young men, modern combat is in that league, plus you get to kill people. Most reporters have forgotten how teenage males think. The recruiters haven't, and the U.S. Marine Corps consistently exceeds it recruiting goals by emphasizing the danger and challenges. The end result is that it's more difficult to recruit for support jobs, than for the combat ones.

@ Bonuses. Taking a cue from the corporate world, the army increased its use of cash bonuses for people with key skills. Electronics and intelligence specialists are regularly among the best rewarded. Veteran infantry leaders get lots of the bonus money, because recruiters for corporate security firms were making outrageous offers.

@ Higher Re-enlistment Rates. As important as new recruits are, getting experienced soldiers to stay in is equally important. And in this department the army has been very successful. Veteran troops in combat zones tend to re-enlist at a higher rate than those in safer areas. Although there's sometimes a tax angle to this, many veterans admit they re-enlist because there is a job to be done, and they are the only ones to do it.

@ Better screening. For over half a century, the army has been working on better screening and training techniques for "substandard" recruits. This includes those who have too much fat, not enough education, or a troubled past. Although the army has only been accepting recruits who are considerably healthier, smarter and better educated than the average for their age, for the past two decades, efforts to turn less well qualified men and women into effective soldiers, continued. Now those techniques are being used, although you'd never know it from the performance of the troops.

@ Ongoing Reforms. The army has, for the last three decades, been rolling out more and more reforms. Not just obvious things, like new weapons and uniforms, but new leadership and organizational methods. The result is better performance and morale. Troops are more likely to reenlist if they believe they are serving with the best, and being well treated.

While this recruiting accomplishment is not getting much recognition now, historians will have a good time with it in the future.




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