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Army to use patriotic appeal after missing recruiting goals again

WASHINGTON—The Army probably will fall short of its monthly enlistment goals again in March and April but expects a new emphasis on patriotic pitches to make up the difference later, Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey said Wednesday.

In February, for the first time in five years, the Army's active, Reserve and National Guard components missed their monthly recruiting goals. Now, the Army has forecast that it will fall short this month and in April, Harvey said at a Pentagon news conference.

"So are we concerned? Absolutely," Harvey said.

Despite the possible three-month shortfall, Harvey added that there's time to reach annual goals and that he's "cautiously optimistic."

"I'm clearly not going to give up," he said. "At this stage we still have six months to go. And I've challenged our human resource people to get as innovative as they can."

The Army has been struggling to fill its ranks as the war in Iraq, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,500 service members, enters its third year. It's increased enlistment bonuses, the number of recruiters and the maximum enlistment age for the Reserve and Guard.

The Army's usual peacetime pitches—money for college, vocational training—aren't so appealing when weighed against the perils of one or more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So it's crafting pitches appealing to parents' patriotism, since recruiters have encountered resistance from people reluctant to send their sons and daughters into harm's way.

The active-duty Army's goal is to enlist 80,000 recruits by the end of the 2005 fiscal year on Sept. 30. It fell 27 percent short of its February goal of 7,050 recruits.

The recruiting problems won't immediately hurt the Army's fighting capabilities, but they're another sign of how hard it's become to recruit new soldiers, military analysts said.

"The failure to meet recruiting goals can't really come as a big shocker to anybody," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank. "The war is unpopular, and the Army is bearing the brunt of the fighting.

"People who viewed the Army as a career move are probably finding that option less attractive as the war drags on," Thompson said. The Army's recruiting difficulties also suggest that "maybe the all-volunteer force only works well when we're not at war," he said.

Harvey dismissed the possibility that the Army's manpower woes would revive interest in a draft. "The `D' word is the farthest thing from my thoughts. ... The all-volunteer force has proven its value."

The Army secretary said he's pushed the Army to come up with innovative ways of finding volunteers.

"We're going to be ... very proactive to pointing out to recruits and their parents the value of serving the country," Harvey said.

Charles Pena, the director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian policy organization in Washington, said he's skeptical such appeals will make a big difference. They might persuade people already inclined to enlist, he said, but otherwise fall on deaf ears.

"We're a very divided country on whether this is a war that matters," Pena said. "Iraq is not clearly a war of U.S. national survival. As long as it's not perceived that way, you're going to have a hard time with the patriotic appeal."

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(Hannah reports for the Contra Costa Times.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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