Army missing its mark

Gilroy
– Concerns about overseas combat, an improving economy and lower
unemployment rates are making it harder for the United States Army
to meet its increased recruitment goals.
The U.S. Congress decides on the strength of each branch of the
military and the recruitment goal has been increased each year
since the start of the War in Iraq.
Gilroy – Concerns about overseas combat, an improving economy and lower unemployment rates are making it harder for the United States Army to meet its increased recruitment goals.

The U.S. Congress decides on the strength of each branch of the military and the recruitment goal has been increased each year since the start of the War in Iraq. For this fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, the active army mission is to enlist 80,000 new soldiers nationwide, up from 77,000 for 2004. The army reserves are expected to pull in 22,175 new soldiers.

Local recruiter Capt. Will Griffin said he has not seen a downward shift in the number of recruiters his office is pulling in.

“The number of folks signing up in this area has been consistent,” Griffin said. “There is a core group of men and women who are still interested in joining the military.”

The recruiting area, which stretches from South San Jose all the way to Monterey and east to Santa Cruz, recruits about 300 soldiers each year. The number of recruits has remained steady over the past few years, Griffin said.

Although local numbers are holding steady, as of May 26, the army has only recruited 40,964 new members and they have fallen short of their monthly goal for the last five months, said John Heil, the public affairs officer for the Sacramento Army Recruiting Battalion, which covers Northern California.

Still, Heil is hopeful that the Army will pick up the bulk of the soldiers needed over the summer months.

“We do expect to see an improvement towards the end of the fiscal year,” Heil said. “We see an increase towards the end of the summer with seniors getting out of school who are not sure what they are going to be doing.”

And Heil emphasized that the Army is now looking at both high school and college graduates to meet their target goal.

“Our commanding general has made it clear that he wants us to look at college campuses,” Heil said.

“It is really challenging given the environment,” he said. “We are definitely trying to look at different avenues to get folks out there who are interested in looking at the Army as an opportunity.”

These new avenues include raising the amount of money offered for college from $50,000 to $70,00 and offering loan repayment programs for those who have already incurred higher education debt. The army reserves have also increased their upper age limit from 35 to 39 in hopes of adding new recruits.

The U.S. Army has come under attack recently due to accusations of unethical tactics, prompting a nationwide halt in recruiting for one day on May 20.

“Here locally, we’ve never had any complaints about anyone conducting themselves in what would be considered an unethical manner,” Heil said.

A provision of the No Child Left Behind act that requires schools to turn over student contact information to military recruiters or risk losing federal funding has also caused an uproar lately. While parents and students do have the option to request their information not be released, some parents are alleging that they are not properly informed. Gilroy High School sends home a form to opt out with a back-to-school packet in mid-August.

“We get more back of those than anything else,” said Janie Gillespie, office coordinator for Gilroy High School. “We get back about 300 and we are just shy of 2,500 students. We consider that a tremendous amount.”

Heil said the clause in the No Child Left Behind Act has not impacted recruiting efforts.

“To be very honest, a lot of recruiters were already getting lists from schools,” Heil said.

Griffin added that high schools are just one place that the Army looks for recruits and those recruits still need to meet the stringent qualifications of the Army.

“We get a lot more people walking in the door who are not qualified than are,” Captain Griffin said.

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