Army Recruiting Shortfall May Presage Problems Soaring Economy Makes Recruiters' Jobs Busier, Raises Concerns of Military Readiness

Article excerpt

Are fewer young people heeding the United States Army's call to be all that they can be?

The Army says no, but others have their doubts.

Army officials have shrugged off the shortfall in their March and April recruitment targets as an aberration. And they say they will still meet their goal of enlisting 89,700 new troops by the end of fiscal 1997 on Sept. 30. Yet even though the Air Force, Navy, and Marines are filling or exceeding their current targets, concerns are mounting among some public officials and military officers that all of the services could find it increasingly difficult to meet their recruitment requirements in coming years. Such shortfalls, they say, could impair the nation's military preparedness. A failure to tackle "recruiting problems will jeopardize the quality of the force and put at risk future combat capability," warns a House National Security Committee report. The report accompanied the House version of the fiscal 1998 defense budget, which includes more advertising dollars for the services. Ironically, one concern is the nation's booming economy. In times of high joblessness, the all-volunteer military has an adequate pool for recruits. Much of that pool has evaporated, though, as unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in 23 years. Furthermore, the military is having to compete more fiercely with civilian employers for the most talented high school and college graduates. OTHER factors include the end of the cold war, experts say. The lack of an identifiable foe capable of threatening the security of the United States has dulled enthusiasm for careers in the armed forces. Instead, more young people want to attend college to acquire skills increasingly considered necessary for well-salaried jobs in the new high-tech economy. "We don't have an enemy out there that you can identify," says Alan Gropman, a military historian at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces who studies recruitment issues for the Army. "Most kids who have high school diplomas are thinking about {civilian} careers." Professor Gropman believes the Air Force, Navy, and Marines will find it easier to fill their recruitment goals than the Army. …


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