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Army Hits Recruitment Goal; Others Lag

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

New recruiting figures from the Pentagon today. Recruitment numbers for the active-duty military improved in July, but the Army National Guard and Army Reserve continue to struggle. NPR's Eric Westervelt has details from the Pentagon.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

July numbers out today show that active-duty Army, Air Force and Marine Corps recruiters met or exceeded their recruitment goals for a second straight month. The Navy came in just under its monthly goal, but is on track to meet or exceed year-end goals. Active-duty Army recruiters had a pretty good month, exceeding their goal by some 600 new soldiers, but it wasn't enough to lift the year-to-date goal where the Army wants to be in recruitment at this time. That's still at 89 percent of fiscal year projections.

And the Army National Guard and Army Reserves continue to struggle recruitmentwise. Recruiters say ongoing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and a strong economy are major factors. Summertime traditionally is prime recruiting time, but July numbers for the Army National Guard show that they met only 80 percent of their recruiting goal, and the Army Reserve met only 82 percent of their goal. Colonel Mike Jones is deputy director of recruiting and retention for the National Guard. He says daily news of violence and casualties in Iraq contribute to the tough environment.

Lieutenant Colonel MIKE JONES (Deputy Director, Recruiting and Retention, National Guard): When you are recruiting during a time of war, as an all-volunteer force during a time of a multiyear war, a combat, fighting, hot war, that has an impact. It has to have. But it's on the organization to develop a message, a strategy, a compensation package that can respond to that challenge.

WESTERVELT: Lieutenant Colonel Jones says the biggest challenges continue to be drawing soldiers who are ending their active-duty service into the Guard and recruiting those with no prior military service. For the fiscal year ending September 30th, the National Guard and Reserve are at 77 and 80 percent respectively of their overall recruiting goals. But Lieutenant Colonel Jones points out that on the retention side, the National Guard is at 105 percent of its goal and going up this month, helped in part by a boost in re-enlistment cash bonuses. He believes the worst of the recruiting woes for the Guard may be over.

Lt. Col. JONES: I believe in August and September, you're going to see an actual increase for three consecutive months, which is going to help us going into '06. We didn't have that last year, and we really had the trends going the opposite direction vs. this year they're going in a more positive direction.

WESTERVELT: Guard officials has asked Congress to again raise recruiting bonuses, including a boost from 10 to $20,000 for those with no prior military service. In addition, in recent months, the Guard and Reserve have tried to change and improve their ad campaigns, and next month, the new two-minute-long National Guard ad is coming to a movie theater near you. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, the Pentagon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.