The Army missed its May recruiting goal by nearly 400 soldiers, or just over 7%, marking the first time in almost two years the service has fallen short and renewing questions about whether the war in Iraq is having a long-term effect on the well-being of the Army.
May is traditionally one of most difficult recruiting months, as the school year comes to an end, Army officials said. They noted that even with the lower numbers, the Army is about 2,000 recruits ahead of its year-to-date goal. The Army aims to recruit 80,000 soldiers this year.
“I think the amazing thing is we’re getting 80,000 patriotic Americans a year to join an Army at war,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the Army general staff department responsible for personnel issues.
But May’s falloff comes as the Army has been raising recruiting bonuses and easing the criteria for those it accepts. The proportion of recruits who score lowest on aptitude tests is now capped at 4%, up from 2%. And the proportion of recruits granted “moral waivers,” which disregard minor brushes with the law, also has increased.
The shortfall hit just as commanders were ramping up recruitment to meet the Bush administration’s plan to increase the overall size of the Army to 547,000, or an additional 65,000 soldiers, over the next five years.
The Army enlisted 5,101 new soldiers in May, short of the 5,500 it was seeking. The Army last missed its monthly numbers in September. But recruiting officials still count that month as part of its unbroken string of recruiting successes, because they say they intentionally ramped down efforts after reaching their goal for fiscal 2006, which ended Sept. 30.
Before that, the Army last missed its monthly goal in May 2005, the last in a four-month skid that forced the service to drastically increase recruitment bonuses and develop a new marketing campaign, called “Army Strong.”
Last month, the Army introduced two incentive bonuses for recruits.
The service increased to 45 the number of job specialties eligible for $15,000 cash payments when recruits sign for a two-year stint. Those recruits can earn $51,864, factoring in tuition credits.
In addition, commanders raised the maximum combined bonus for all recruits who sign for three-year commitments to $25,000, up from $10,000 to $20,000 for a limited number of job specialties.
All other active-duty services reported hitting or exceeding their May goals.
The Army National Guard missed its recruiting numbers, enlisting 5,612 soldiers, or 791 short of its goal.