As war stretches on, recruiters scramble
Falling short of goals, the Army has beefed up bonuses and raised the maximum age of Guard and Reserve recruits to 39.
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The difficulties betray deeper questions about whether the size and structure of the current military is adequate at a time of substantial US intervention worldwide. The Army must rely so heavily on the Guard and Reserve because it is not large enough, and because some key nationbuilding duties - such as policing and engineering - are handled partly by the Guard and Reserve, some experts say.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Army - and by that I mean active, Guard, and Reserve - is simply too small and improperly structured to successfully fulfill and perform all the nation is asking it to do," Rep. John McHugh (R) of New York told a House hearing last month.
So far, the Pentagon has rejected the notion that the pace of deployments is unsustainable. It has also dismissed any potential need for a draft. In the long term, many analysts agree that the Army could grow, if it wishes, using volunteers. But the failure simply to maintain current strength shows the challenges of recruiting in wartime.
But recruiter Ziegler is not ready to concede defeat. Dressed in his camouflage fatigues, he is unfailingly optimistic, ringing every affirmative answer with a "Roger, that." The stepson of a Kansas oil man and one of a dozen children, Ziegler speaks with the conviction of a true believer. The Army changed his life, and he thinks he can help change other lives, too.
When he was 20, working odd jobs in his stepfather's oil fields and in the local Wal-Mart, pictures of the military in Kosovo inspired him to want to help others. Nowadays, he spends his hours trying to find kids just like him. "If I make a difference in one person's life, that's a big deal," he insists.
Ziegler is one of 2,100 recruiters added by the Guard and Reserve this year. Those additions, together with the new bonuses for enlistment and the relaxed age limit, give the military hope it can reverse the recent trend.
For his part, Ziegler is no stranger to the frustrations of recruiting. Most mornings, he journeys to high schools and shopping malls, setting up information booths and talking to kids. In the evenings, he makes phone calls and house visits to potential recruits.
The questions and concerns are always the same. "What is the Guard?" "Will I be sent to Iraq?" Or, just as often: "Will my son be sent to Iraq?" Parents are becoming more involved in decisions.
"There is more opposition among parents, and particularly among parents who might normally be open to the economic benefits [of enlisting]," says David Segal, a military expert at the University of Maryland. "Now they're saying, 'Getting killed isn't worth going to college.' "
Ziegler can respond only with what he knows. He tells parents about how he helped rebuild Iraqi schools, restore power to Iraqi neighborhoods, and train Iraqi police. "You might see a soldier hurt," he says. "But he's doing something he loves and he's giving back. Once I tell them that, they kind of relate."
Still, in three months on the job, both people he has enlisted were prior service members. "It can be hard," Ziegler says. But then, just as quickly, his face brightens. This new soldier in the Guard's recruiting offensive is a man who volunteered to go on high school recruiting trips when he was still in basic training. "I approach this with a positive attitude."