Short of recruits, Army redoes its math

It trims enlistment goals for the coming months in hopes of a big influx next summer.

This week, the Department of Defense reported that for the second month in a row, the service hit hardest by the recruiting shortfall - the Army - exceeded its monthly recruiting goals.

Yet both this month and last, there has been hardly a peep about that success. The reasons have more to do with math than media bias.

Even within the Defense Department, few suggest that the Army has seen its way through the crisis. Instead, what the Army has done is backload the goals for its recruiting year, which runs from October through next September.

For instance, last fiscal year, the Army's October recruiting goal was 6,935 recruits; this year it dropped to 4,700. To make up the difference, the Army will look to sign up more recruits next summer: Last July it sought to bring in 7,450 soldiers; next July it is seeking 10,450, an extra 3,000.

Relying more heavily on the summer months is a logical step on many fronts. First, the months after high-school graduation are the best recruiting months. Even last year - when the Army finished 6,627 recruits short of its goal of 80,000 - it exceeded its recruiting goals each month from June through September.

Moreover, backloading the recruiting calendar prevents the Pentagon from having to explain missed quotas throughout the year. Perhaps most important, it also allows time for events on the ground in Iraq to change.

The recruiting shortfalls have corresponded with growing public criticism of the war. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already said that a successful election in Iraq this week would lead to a drawdown in the number of troops - and that more could soon follow.

That said, the hope of luring 38,900 recruits - nearly half of the entire year's goal - in the last third of the recruiting year is a challenge. "I know there is concern," says Douglas Smith, a spokesman for Army Recruiting Command.

Most analysts express doubt that the Army can make up the difference. Now, with reenlistments slipping for the first time since the war began, the numbers game is becoming a major concern. The Army eased the problem somewhat in October by accepting more than its usual allotment of Category 4 recruits, who received a substandard score on the Army aptitude test.

But some see that as a sign of desperation. Says Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of Defense for manpower: "You can't sustain this level of ground troops indefinitely without breaking the force."

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