Thursday, June 09, 2005

If you can't recruit, you can't cull...

It has been fairly widespread news of late that the military's recruiting has been down for several months. Tuesday's NYTimes had an article about Army recruiting (After Lowering Goal, Army Falls Short on May Recruits)...and it's not a pretty picture.
On Friday, the Army is expected to announce that it met only 75 percent of its recruiting goal for May, the fourth consecutive monthly shortfall in the number of new recruits sent to basic training. Just over 5,000 new recruits entered boot camp in May.
But the news could have appeared worse. Early last month, the Army, with no public notice, lowered its long-stated May goal to 6,700 recruits from 8,050. Compared with the original target, the Army achieved only 62.6 percent of its goal for the month.
A look at this graph shows the shortfalls over time.

The Army's recruiting goal for 2005 is 80,000 new soldiers, as of May, they are 8,300 behind in their monthly goals - but summer is usually the bigger months. But here is what one Army recruiter in New York said:
One of the recruiters said he doubted that the summer would yield more recruits than the spring. "The summer is supposed to be big, but I don't think it's going to happen," he said. "I don't see much interest among the high school seniors."

So maybe not...but there are other options:
To help offset the recruiting shortfalls, the Army is also trying to keep more soldiers. A memorandum from the Army's top personnel officer last month outlined a plan to reduce attrition among first-term enlistees by 1 percent, and retain 3,000 soldiers.
The memorandum, first reported last week by The Wall Street Journal, requires the approval of more senior-level brigade commanders, instead of battalion commanders, to discharge soldiers for pregnancy, drug or alcohol abuse, or poor fitness.
So, due to the recruiting problems, the Army may have to start keeping soldiers that it ordinarily would discharge - simply to maintain numbers. That does not sound like a successful long-term plan. Here is the Wall St. Journal article entitled To Fill Ranks, Army Acts To Retain Even Problem Enlistees. It seems that not everyone is thrilled about the new plan.
Still, some Army battalion commanders are less than pleased with the Army's decision to try to keep more problem soldiers in the service. "It is the guys on weight control ... school no-shows, drug users, et cetera, who eat up my time and cause my hair to gray prematurely," says one Army battalion commander. "Often they have more than one of these issues simultaneously."
So because of the problems in recruiting, individuals who would have been dismissed in the pass may be retained - to fill out the numbers. And, if the recruiting is down, what about the quality of the new recruits that are coming in?
One commander says the growing attrition problem can be traced to a slip in the quality of new soldiers as recruiters have increasingly struggled to hit their monthly quotas. "There are guys showing up at units with physical problems or other issues who you would not have seen a couple of years ago," says the commander.
In March, 17.4% of all new Army recruits failed to make it through training. Another 7.3% didn't finish their first three years with their unit. The Army's goal is to keep training losses below 12% and first-term enlistee losses below 5%.
You can see more about the attrition problems in this graph.

No questions there are a lot of variables that go into those numbers, but it would be difficult to argue that the recruiting problems play no part.

Slate has a good column, Dismissed!, about why this is poor long-term strategy...

By retaining these soldiers, the Army lowers the quality of its force and places a heavy burden on commanders who have to take the poor performers into harm's way. This is a quick fix that may create more problems than it solves.

and what are some viable solutions...
If retention is the goal, the military pay and promotion system needs a complete overhaul. First, retention bonuses should more closely mirror recruiting costs. Today they lag by more than 50 percent...
Second, the lock-step, caste-based pay system needs to be scrapped. In its place, a risk-adjusted bonus system needs to be built to target the growing majority of soldiers who cite "hardship" as their reason for leaving the service...
The Pentagon must stop the proliferation of its private army. Today there are as many as 30,000 private military contractors serving in traditional military billets. They are paid up to five times as much as soldiers performing the same duties. Encouraging the privatization of soldiers when there is a severe shortage of riflemen is circular reasoning...
Finally, a new reserve component is needed. The active reserve's one weekend per month and two weeks per year requirement no longer meshes with the modern workforce...
The problems are troublesome. In the context of an operation in Afghanistan, the saber-rattling of Iran and N. Korea, and a long-term, infantry intensive occupation of Iraq, these problem beg grave questions. Not the least of which is at what point does conscription become inevitable...

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