Despite a rising tide of combat deaths and the prospect of
deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come, Americans
continue to volunteer for duty and are re-enlisting at record rates.
The services believe a combination of patriotism and the economy
is driving people to the military and keeping them there.
"The war is not only not having a negative effect, but it is
helping to reinforce the number of people who want to join," said
Cmdr. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Navy's Bureau of Personnel.
Even the Army National Guard, which has had 150,000 citizen
soldiers mobilized for up to a year, has seen retention rates "going
through the roof," said Guard spokesman Maj. Robert Howell.
"Mass exodus has not been the case in the Army National Guard,"
said Howell, deputy chief of the Strength Maintenance Division at
the National Guard Bureau in Washington.
The Guard was prepared to lose up to 18 percent of units
returning from lengthy deployments, but it has averaged just 16.6
percent, with some as low as 12.6 percent, Howell said.
The Guard fully expects to again reach its recruiting goal of
56,000 members this year, to maintain its total strength of 350,000.
The Guard's goal for first-term re-enlistments , for those with
less than six years of service, had been 65 percent this fiscal year
but has rocketed to 141 percent - which indicates that additional
members re-enlisted early, usually to take advantage of bonuses.
The goal for second- and third-term enlistments, or those
considered "career" soldiers, was set at 85 percent in the Guard
but has come in at 136 percent, Howell said.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard all met
or exceeded their year-end recruiting goals for fiscal year 2003,
which ended Sept. 30. The figures continued to climb in the first
half of fiscal year 2004, which was reached March 31.
The Army is at 100.1 percent of its "active duty mission," said
spokesman Douglas Smith, reviewing numbers current as of March 29.
Smith said 34,593 soldiers had been enlisted for the active Army and
8,331 for the Reserves. The Army has been ahead of its goal every
year since 2000 and every month this year, Smith said.
The Navy is meeting all recruiting and retention goals and has
cut the number of new recruits this year to the lowest target in 30
Instead of bringing 41,200 new recruits into the service this
fiscal year, the Navy will cut it off at 40,450, said Lt. Bill Davis
with the Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn.
"Thus far, through March, we've recruited 15,636, but this is
normally our slow period," Davis said. "Things kick up in the summer
with high school graduates. Where we've been getting 2,000 a month,
we'll jump to 4,000 a month in the summer."
Navy re-enlistment rates are at an all time high, with 62.3
percent of first-term sailors signing up for additional service.
That compares with a targeted goal of 56 percent. The rate has
grown each year since 2000, when 48.2 percent of the first-term
For those with six to 10 years of service, the Navy re-enlisted
74.1 percent; its goal had been 70 percent. For those with 10 to 14
years of service, 88.7 percent re-enlisted so far this year; the
goal was 85 percent.
The last time the Navy missed its recruiting goal was in 1998,
In the Air Force, new recruit contracts are coming in at 104.2
percent of goal in fiscal year 2003 and reached 102.6 percent of
goal through March.
The Air Force is retaining 67 percent of its first-term enlisted
members, 75 percent of its second term, and 98 percent of its career
Like the Army, the Marine Corps has been in the thick of combat
in Iraq, yet the Marines have exceeded their monthly recruiting goal
every month for the past 106 consecutive months, or for nearly nine
From October to December 2003 - the first quarter of fiscal year
2004 - the Marines recruited 9,201 potential members, surpassing
their goal of 8,729.
Even the Coast Guard, which has grown by more than 10 percent to
40,000 since the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is keeping
its members .
The Coast Guard has lost 7 percent to 8 percent of its force
through attrition each year. In 2001 the rate was 7.65 percent; in
2002 it was 7.9 percent, said Chief Petty Officer Paul Rhynarb, at
Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington.
But in 2003 the rate fell to just 2.68 percent, Rhynarb said.
Chief Petty Officer John Hoesli, who heads the Coast Guard's
recruiting station in Chesapeake, responsible for recruiting from
Williamsburg to Cape Hatteras, has never seen recruiting so good.
His office has been the most productive in the past four years and
was named the best throughout the Coast Guard in 2001.
"Whether it's patriotism, or defending the nation by keeping the
fight here and keeping terrorism out of here that draws people, I
don't know," Hoesli said. He suspects those are some of the reasons,
along with an economy that is sending more people into the service .
While the Coast Guard aims its sights mainly at the 18- to 20-
year-old recruit, Hoesli said he is seeing older, more experienced
candidates in their mid- to late-20s, many with college degrees.
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