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US Military Bracing for Recruitment Headaches

The US Army, its numbers seriously depleted by deployments in Iraq, foresees recruiting problems in the coming year and is offering big cash incentives to induce young people to sign up.

The Army recruitment wing, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky, foresees deploying hundreds of extra recruiters throughout the country.

"It's one of the tactics they are looking at, one of the tools, as we're looking for help for the next fiscal year," said Specialist Julia Bobick, public affairs officer at the Army recruiting command.

"We're definitely concerned about continuing to meet our mission," said Bobick, pointing to the US economic recovery and the situation in Iraq. "There's no national data on how the war is affecting it, but it certainly has an impact on people's decisions."

With the prospect of US presence in Iraq extending several years, young people who would normally be drawn to enlisting as a way of paying for their education and gaining medical coverage are now thinking twice about it.

And with the US economy on the upswing after a long recession, those starting careers are enjoying increased employment options in the private sector, making the military less attractive.

The Army hasn't forgotten its recruitment headaches when the economy was booming in the 1990's before the bubble burst in 2000.

The Army this week began offering cumulative cash bonuses as high as 15,000 dollars for a three-year commitment in high-priority, difficult-to-fill jobs requiring rapid deployment. The previous maximum enlistment bonus was 6,000 dollars.

The new bonuses are aimed at attracting skilled and educated people and vary according to levels of training and schooling, said Bobick.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week hailed the fact that the Army was meeting its recruitment target of 77,000 new recruits by the end of September.

But some defense officials have expressed concern about what happens after that.

And Rumsfeld himself has said the military is reflecting on recruitment as well as "retention" -- renewing service contracts nearing their term -- saying the military would use all means at its disposal to attract and retain the best-qualified people.

Loren Thompson, a defense expert with the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank, said Army officials have made clear to the Pentagon's political decision makers that meeting recruitment quotas will become even more difficult after the November 2 presidential election.

Not only are personnel requirements increasing, he said, but the Army is in the process of accelerating the mobilizaition of recruits who had signed up under a "delayed entry" plan that should have delayed their activation until next year.

That program allows recruits to sign a commitment several months before the time of their actual mobilization. But, because the Army has been forced to advance their entry, explained Thompson, the pool of new personnel available in the coming months is being cut.

© Copyright 2004 AFP

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