The U.S. Army released its latest recruiting numbers Friday and the news is not good. Enlistment targets fell short by 25 percent in May. The recruiting gap would have been even worse but the Army reduced its target by more than 1,300 recruits. With recruitment down, the Army is relaxing requirements for new officers and making it more difficult to kick soldiers out of the military. In contrast, the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force all met or exceeded their recruiting goals in May.
The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is taking a toll on the recruitment effort in the Army. The numbers show the Army will likely fall short of its yearly recruiting goal for the first time in six years.
The Army missed its monthly targets in February, March, April, and May. Commanders have responded by adding hundreds of extra recruiters. "I tell them what I experienced and try to help them out with the decision. I try to make them feel a little more comfortable about talking to recruiters about the Army and everything," said recruiter Jaymeson Wilcox, a Private First Class who has served in Iraq.
Recruiters are also focusing more on mothers and fathers. With U.S. troops dying in Iraq at a rate of two a day, many parents are steering their children away from the Army. "I was 22. My mom still didn't want me to join and there wasn't a war going on," said Army recruiter Elmer Frye.
And it is only expected to get more difficult for recruiters. If the Army is going to reach its goal of 80,000 new soldiers by the end of the fiscal year, in September, it will need to recruit more than 9,700 new troops a month until then.
"We may have to work a little harder at times to tell the Army story and to answer questions of parents and students. And we're doing that. Our recruiters are working hard on that," said Army Public Affairs Officer Bill Kelo.
One way the Army is trying to retain soldiers is by changing some of its rules. The Army has made it more it difficult to dismiss soldiers for pregnancy, alcohol or drug abuse, unsatisfactory performance or being overweight.
The Army insists this does not mean less desirable soldiers will be kept in the service, it just means borderline soldiers will be given a second look.