Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier
In what critics say is another sign of increasing stress on the military, the Army has been forced to bring more new recruits immediately into the ranks to meet recruiting goals for 2004, instead of allowing them to defer entry until the next accounting year, which starts in October.
In an interview on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the Army’s top personnel officer, said that the Army would use incentives like cash bonuses, educational benefits and choice base assignments to help meet its overall recruiting and re-enlistment goals next year, as it has in almost every year when it started with so few advance recruits. But he acknowledged that factors including the American casualties in Iraq and the improving job market made filling the ranks a challenge. “I worry about this every single day – recruiting and retention,” said General Hagenbeck, who commanded forces in Afghanistan in his previous assignment. “We are recruiting a volunteer force during a time of war. We’ve never done that before.”
The headline, lede, and actual story don’t match up. The Army isn’t ordering the delayed entry recruits to duty earlier; they’re trying to lure them in with incentives. This shouldn’t be surprising: There’s a mission surge at the moment and we need soldiers now.
Still, some critics on Capitol Hill and among Army recruiters say that tapping into the bank of recruits is a telling sign that the Army is having problems filling its ranks to meet the deployments of more than 120,000 soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, the Army has said it will recruit thousands of sailors and airmen who are otherwise scheduled to leave the Navy and Air Force because of cutbacks. Starting this month, the Army may delay the retirements of soldiers with at least 20 years’ experience if they are in jobs that face critical staffing shortages. The Army’s top training forces at Fort Polk, La., and Fort Irwin, Calif., are being deployed for the first time, to Iraq, raising concerns among some officers that troops will not be given the most strenuous preparation possible before they leave the United States.
Obviously, that would be more problematic. But individual troops don’t train at NTC and JRTC; units do. Further, unless things have changed radically in recent months, those training centers specialize in maneuver combat operations. That’s not the mission in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In interviews with recruiting officials, as well as in internal memos and e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times, this pressure to meet recruiting goals is evident. “Guys the mission is at risk!” Col. Peter M. Vangjel, a deputy commander of the Army Recruiting Command, wrote to battalion commanders and top enlisted soldiers in an April 21 e-mail message. “We can NOT miss this mission. I need your full support.” Colonel Vangjel continued, “The CG is the next guy to talk to you about this,” referring to the commanding general of the recruiting command, Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle. “Don’t let it happen.” But in a June 23 memo to the same senior recruiters, Colonel Vangjel expressed disappointment, saying that in the previous several months, the command “experienced a downward production trend.”
Army officials disclosed Wednesday that none of the Army’s five recruiting brigades met their missions between March and July, forcing the service to tap into its bank of recruits to make up the difference.
Then-Major Pete Vangjel was my first battalion XO in Germany. He’s a top-notch guy. If he’s running the day-to-day recruiting operation, it’s being run as well as it possibly can. But I can’t imagine a more difficult task than recruiting for a non-glamorous quasi-war. People might well volunteer to roll into Baghdad in a tank and do battle with an enemy army; stability operations are arguably more dangerous but decidedly less sexy.
General Hagenbeck said that Army recruiting was shaped by a number of intangibles, most notably the economy, which attracts possible recruits into the private sector when it is strong and sends them toward the military during a downturn. General Hagenbeck also described the critical role played by parents, teachers and coaches as to whether high school graduates consider Army service – recruiters call them “the influencers.” Fears that these influencers would no longer endorse Army service were raised in April, he said, when the military’s public standing sustained severe blows. An Army survey conducted as the nation was rocked by pictures of military police abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison – which coincided with a spike in combat deaths – raised concerns that the “influencers were drawing back,” he said.
Not surprising. Part of what one sells in recruiting soldiers is being part of an honorable tradition. Anything that besmirches the reputation of the service has to hurt recruiting.
Update: Both WaPo and WSJ offer better takes on the story:
WaPo – Fewer Army Recruits Lined Up
The Army’s pool of future recruits has dwindled to its lowest level in three years, worrying Pentagon officials as the service is being stretched by the unexpectedly difficult occupation of Iraq. The Army watches the number of future soldiers in the “delayed entry” program — those who have enlisted but have not been shipped to boot camp — as a way to make sure it has enough recruits to keep training camps fully manned in the coming months. That number has declined to about 23 percent of the number of recruits being shipped this year — the lowest percentage in three years, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the Army’s personnel office. “It is an indicator that troubles us, but it isn’t shocking,” Hilferty said. He said Army officials believe that the situation is “cyclical” and is likely to recover.
The latest indication of the strain on the Army is the new disclosure about worries about the size of the delayed entry pool. In 2001, the number of future soldiers in the pool, as a percentage of the number of recruits joining the Army that year, declined to 22 percent, about where the ratio is now, Hilferty said. A year earlier, it had slipped to 19 percent. Historically, the Army is most comfortable when the level is around 35 percent — indicating that about one-third of the people who will go to basic training over the next 12 months already have enlisted.
A bit less breathless than the NYT story and a more direct explanation of why it has people worried.
WSJ – Army Recruiting Faces A Shortfall Due To Call-Ups [$]
Despite public claims that recruiting is on track, senior military officials involved in U.S. Army recruiting say that the service is cutting deeply into its delayed-entry pool of recruits, which likely will create a shortfall later this year. To meet its near-term goals, the Army has pushed recruits who sign up for the delayed-entry program into the service faster than it has in recent years. As a result, the Army believes it will enter fiscal year 2005, beginning in about two months, with only about 16,000 recruits, or 21% of its overall recruiting goal in the delayed-entry pool. By contrast, the Army began the 2004 fiscal year with 33,000 troops, or about 46% of its goal that year, in the delayed-entry pool. The delayed-entry pool consists of recruits who have signed enlistment contracts and agreed to take a slot at boot camp in anywhere from a week to a year from the day they enlist.
“The [delayed-entry program] does concern us, but it is only one of many indicators. It is low, but it is not at a historic low,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman. He said that the Army was confident that it could use financial and other incentives, such as cash bonuses or promising recruits a particular specialty, to meet its goal for fiscal 2005. Typically when it is struggling to bring recruits into the service, the Army will shrink the delayed-entry pool. “It is sort of like borrowing out of your savings account to cover today’s expenses,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, a former Army personnel expert. The last time the Army missed its recruiting goals was 1999.
For the surreal side of this. . .
When the Army announced recently that it was going to tap into its rarely used Individual Ready Reserve to fill vital slots for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, top military and civilian personnel said the activation was a proper response to a temporary manpower crisis.
But among the tasks included in the 5,674 jobs deemed critical to the war on terrorism are slots for two trumpet or cornet players, two French horn players, one trombonist, four clarinet players, three saxophonists, one electric bass player, one percussionist and one euphonium player. Their call-up from civilian life Ã¢€” along with intelligence analysts, human resources specialists, insect experts, construction workers, truck drivers, healthcare providers, morticians and scores of other occupations Ã¢€” is crucial, Army officials say. “They contribute significantly to the Army’s morale and operations,” says Andrea Wales, a spokeswoman for the Army Human Resources Command in St. Louis, which sends out the notices to IRR members. Army bands support the morale of fellow soldiers through their musical performances, and when they’re not performing, the musicians also carry out “essential core missions” such as guard duty, Wales says. Gen. Richard Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee July 7 that the IRR call-up is focusing on combat service support because “that’s where the stress and strain is.” Cody noted that among the units being stressed “quite a bit” are bands, because “as you know, our bands do an awful lot of our burial services.”
Some members of Congress are less certain of the need to call up soldier-musicians. “I’ll have to look into that,” says Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “I knew there was a shortage over there. I didn’t know there was a shortage of musicians.” “This call-up of French horn players, among others, is just the latest consequence of the Pentagon’s outrageous and inexcusable poor planning,” Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., says. “Average Americans continue to pay the price for the Pentagon’s failure to do what it should have: adequately plan for the right number of active-duty troops in Iraq and refuse to deploy National Guard and Reserve members at length while breaking promises about when they will return.”
Faced with the need to keep many more troops in Iraq than it had originally forecast, the Pentagon has resorted to a series of controversial moves that critics say show the Army has been stretched to the breaking point by the twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials have deployed an unusual number of part-time troops from the Army Guard and Reserve, added three extra months to the one-year tours of some units in Iraq, issued “stop-loss” orders to bar Iraq-bound soldiers from leaving or transferring when their voluntary commitments are up, moved troops from South Korea to Iraq and announced the mobilization of elite Army training units to fill Iraq combat roles.
Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., a member of the Armed Services Committee, says he is skeptical of the need for calling musicians back from civilian life. “Did somebody go line by line through this and recognizing that each one of these 5,600 is a person who has a family that did not expect that they would be called back, to say: Is there not a way to do without a euphonium player? Do we need to really draft an electric bass player, to pull them back in?”