The ability of the U.S. Military to sustain an all-volunteer force has been tested by the war in Iraq. To maintain the ongoing deployment of 130,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the U.S. Defense Department has been calling up its part-time soldiers: the National Guard and the Reserves. Last year military recruitment needed to replenish the ranks went down, but this year the numbers are back up. VOA's Brian Padden reports on what has changed.
Sergeant Joanna Pierce, a former U.S. Marine, is joining the National Guard. "Honestly I miss the service. I would like to come back, serve my country," she says.
Joanna is one of more than 26,000 new soldiers that have signed up with the Army National Guard in the last six months. The Army guard is now optimistic that by year's end it will reach its recruitment goal of 350,000. This is good news for the military. For the past two years military recruitment was below average in large part because of the ongoing war in Iraq.
Military analyst Michele Flournoy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says it remains to be seen if this sudden boost in enlistment can be sustained.
"The public ambivalence about the war in Iraq has made recruiting a lot harder," she explains, "because a lot of the influencers as they are called, parents for example, they are saying to their kids, 'Yes, we want you to join the National Guard but not right now'."
Whether he is offering trinkets for push-up or a free college education, Army National Guard recruiter Sergeant Frankie Cross's strategy has not changed in the last year. He admits the war has affected recruitment but says interest remains strong among its key demographic: young people looking for direction, education and career training.
"As far as the National Guard is concerned I basically try to tell the kids I am a strategist," he says. " I am going to try to put together a strategy for your future. So what you doing this summer."
High School student Javier Uribe says the war in Iraq will not influence his decision whether to join the military. "If there is a war going on, I would go to the war, whatever man. I got to do what I got to do. Know what I'm saying," he says.
Sgt. Cross says new financial incentives have helped. Recruits can receive a bonus of up to $20,000 to enlist. And active duty personnel can make two thousand dollars for a referral.
What hasn't changed, says Sgt. Cross, are the academic standards required to keep the all-volunteer force professional and effective. "I look for kids who are bright and want to be here," he explains. "Otherwise I am wasting my time and theirs. And I may get them off to a unit where they might get someone killed."
In addition to financial incentives, Michele Flournoy says President Bush could speak out more on the duty of all Americans to serve in some capacity in this time of war. "One of the things that has been missing in our recruitment so far is a call to service from the highest levels, from the President, from our other national political leaders," she says. "There hasn't been a JFK (former president John F. Kennedy)-like speech, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.'"
But for now the focus on money and career training seems to be working.