Attrition: Americans Enlist in Record Numbers

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May 16, 2006: In the last seven months, the U.S. Army has met or exceeded all of its recruiting goals. In that time, over 160,000 people have enlisted, or re-enlisted. The total strength of the active duty and reserve forces are 1.2 million men and women, all of them volunteers.

Except for a few months in 2004-5, the military has been able to maintain its strength, despite wartime conditions. The biggest problem has not been casualties (only about 10,000 soldiers have been killed or disabled so far, less than one percent of overall strength), but the disruption to family life caused by so many troops getting sent to combat zones. This discouraged re-enlistments in reserve units, although mainly among the non-combat troops. In combat units, re-enlistments were at record levels.

The army adapted to the shortfalls by increasing signing and reenlistment bonuses for key jobs, paying attention to not sending troops overseas any more than needed, and allowing a few percent more of the recruits to come from the lower end of the recruit pool.

But the biggest asset in the recruiting effort has been the world-of-mouth from the troops themselves. They believe in what they are doing, and accomplishing. They believe they are well equipped, trained and led to do it. This angle has not gotten much press coverage, probably because so few members of the press know troops personally. The army recruits largely from the middle classes and non-urban areas. Just the kinds of places and people where you won't find journalists and pundits. When the media does address the recruiting situation, it is dismissed as not relevant. The troops are described as not "getting the big picture," or worse.

 


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