Attrition: Britain Gets A recession Bounce


May 7, 2010: Britain has used the current recession to restore their armed forces to full strength. Well, almost full strength. For most of the past decade, the armed forces have, every year, been 10-20 percent below strength. The military, especially the army, just could not attract enough recruits. But as unemployment rates have gone up during the last two years, so have the number of new recruits. Normally, the military needs about 15,000 new recruits a year just to maintain its strength (about 170,000). But three years ago, only 11,460 were obtained. But in the last twelve months, nearly 23,000 joined up. At this rate, the troop deficit will be gone by next year.

However, with the recession ending, the military is seeking ways to keep the recruiting numbers high. To that end, the army, the worst hit (by shortages) service, has recently launched an ad campaign stressing all the skills you can acquire in the army, that will later be useful in civilian jobs.

Meanwhile, the infantry are still having recruiting problems. Over 80 percent of soldiers have non-combat jobs, and it's no secret that anyone joining the infantry will most likely see combat, and a lot of danger and discomfort, in Afghanistan.

The infantry units have other problems keeping themselves up to strength. In the past year, British infantry battalions have found themselves up to 17 percent under strength. About two-thirds of that was due to the usual causes (illness, attendance at military training courses, and vacation). But the rest is due to the inability of recruiters to attract enough young men (out of a population of 61 million) to serve in the infantry.

British units recruit locally, so the shortages reflect local recruiting problems. The two battalions with the biggest shortages are from the north. The 2nd Battalion (the Green Howards) of The Yorkshire Regiment is short about a third of its authorized strength, while the 2nd Battalion (Royal Highland Fusiliers) of The Royal Regiment of Scotland is short about a quarter of its troops. Overall, the army is short less than two percent of its authorized strength. There's not a lot of problems recruiting for non-combat jobs, especially with a recession going on.

In the U.S., with a population, and army, five times the size of Britain's, meeting recruiting goals has not been a problem, nor has adding additional troops to units headed overseas, so they depart near full strength. Most of this seeming success is due to different recruiting methods. Except in some reserve (National Guard) units, troops are recruited from all over the nation, for all units. Thus those parts of the country that produce a disproportionate number of recruits, help make up for the shortfalls in areas that don't have as many volunteers.

Being in the infantry is a tough job. While support troops worry about getting fat (obesity is a growing problem), the infantry have to be careful that they don't get injured during the strenuous training they constantly undergo. And then there are combat losses. In the past nine years, nearly 300 British troops (mostly infantry) have died in Afghanistan, and over a thousand have been hospitalized for wounds, injury or diseases (there are lot of diseases in Afghanistan). But the biggest source of losses are troops that don't reenlist, or join in the first place.


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