To keep recruiting up, US military spends more

More than $16,000 was spent per recruit in 2005 on bonuses and other expenses. The Army in particular is paying more.

The task of signing up people for military service has become much more difficult since the Iraq war and, as a result, much more expensive.

In fact, in per-enlistee terms, recruiting costs have more than doubled over the past 20 years – from about $7,000 per recruit in 1985 to more than $16,000 per recruit in 2005, according to a report for the Defense Department titled "Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force."

In recent years, plentiful jobs in the civilian world and the increasing allure of a college education were already making it easier for potential recruits to say "no thank you." Now the war in Iraq, with its inherent dangers and multiple tours of duty for troops, is giving more parents pause when it comes to supporting a son's or daughter's decision to enlist.

These reasons, along with the fact that the war is lasting longer than anyone would have expected, is increasing the cost of recruiting, says Curtis Gilroy, who oversees recruiting for the Defense Department. It's the first time the all-volunteer force, which began when conscription ended in 1973, has had to withstand this kind of test. "This is the fourth year of a protracted war in Iraq," Mr. Gilroy says. "We have not done this before."

Of the four services, the Army in particular is spending more to get recruits to sign on the dotted line. Its advertising spending, for example, jumped from $140 million in 2001 to $216 million in 2005, according to an October study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

So far, the extra taxpayer dollars for recruiting are allowing the Army and other services to stay on target for meeting their goals this year. The Army, after struggling in 2005 and missing its recruiting goal by 8 percent, is currently making its recruiting mission: According to monthly recruiting tallies released by the Pentagon Tuesday, it achieved 101 percent of its March mission. The other services, including the Marine Corps, which is bearing much of the burden in Iraq, is also making or exceeding its mission.

Still, with some exceptions, the Army has to spend more to persuade individuals to serve – on advertising, bonuses, college funds, and other incentive programs.

The service has used with some success a program that pays civilians up to $2,000 for referring someone to join the Army. It has enlisted more than 1,300 people that way. The Army also increased its enlistment bonus from $20,000 to $40,000.

Bonuses are working for the Army, says Gilroy of the Defense Department. "They're using bonuses a lot," he says. "That has increased the average cost of a recruit."

In fiscal year 2006, the Army paid $18,327 in costs per accession, or enlistee. Although this year it expects to pay $16,834 per accession, it projects to have to pay $18,842 per recruit during fiscal 2008, which begins in October.

The Marine Corps, which is smaller than the Army and has culturally shied away from paying enlistment bonuses, is also paying slightly more to recruit. While it is paying about $7,900 this year per accession, it expects to have to pay about $10,850 in fiscal year 2008, according to Defense Department data. (However, these per-recruit costs for both the Army and Marine Corps do not reflect the supplemental military budget, which has been funding most war costs. When they are factored in, the per-recruit costs will increase even more, Defense officials say.)

Yet the Army appears to be keeping it together. "They've certainly had their problems, and it may be that things will get much worse in coming years," says Steven Kosiak, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington. But, he says, "recruiting and retention has in some ways been remarkably good."

Despite all the money spent on incentives and advertising, the Army's best bet may be to simply increase the number of recruiters on the street, the separate CBO study concluded.

A 10 percent increase in advertising expenditures and enlistment bonuses or educational benefits would increase enlistments by only about 1 percent, the CBO study estimated. Meanwhile, a 10 percent increase in the number of recruiters would yield a 4 to 6 percent increase in the number of enlistments – a much bigger bang for the dollar, the study said.

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