Sunday, March 27, 2005


More perks needed
for military service


Recruiters are experiencing increased difficulty in luring men and women to military service.

THE war in Iraq is taking its toll on military recruiting efforts, which are failing to reach goals by significant numbers. The Army has failed to meet its monthly recruitment goal for the first time in nearly five years, and the Hawaii National Guard is experiencing similar problems. More benefits will be needed for service members before the U.S. military machine becomes too lean to fulfill its objectives.

Francis J. Harvey, the new Army secretary, said the active-duty Army was 27 percent below its recruiting goal of 7,050. At that rate it will fall far short of the 80,000 new soldiers it hopes to sign up this year.

In Hawaii, Army recruiters were able to enlist only 125 soldiers from Oct. 1 to March 15 for active duty -- fewer than half their goal for that period. They were able to sign on only 65 for the Army Reserve, far short of the goal of 151.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, spokesman for the Hawaii National Guard, says only 283 new soldiers joined the Guard in the year ending Sept. 30, down from 302 the previous year. The Guard tries to sign up 75 new soldiers each quarter.

The Army raised the maximum age for reservists this week from 34 to 39, adding 22 million people to the pool of 60 million who are eligible for the military. However, Anthony does not foresee Guard recruiters shifting their focus from those ages 17 to 22. People in their upper 30s "are already set in their careers," he says.

The reason for the reluctance to don helmets has more to do with physical risk than monetary considerations. The Army gives bonuses of up to $20,000. Lowering educational requirements has not worked to bolster the ranks.

"In the past, barriers were about inconvenience or preference for another life choice," according to an August 2004 study for the Army. "Now they have switched to something quite different: fear of death or injury."

Another study by the Millward Brown market research firm concluded, "Reasons for not considering military service are increasingly based on objections to the Iraq situation and aversion to the military."

Although women are barred from direct land combat assignments, the Millward Brown study found they "are seeing less benefits to joining the Army and more barriers, particularly combat-related reasons." Insurgents have killed 33 female service members in Iraq.

Hawaii has more than 600 reservists and 2,200 National Guard soldiers assigned to Iraq. Large incentives will be needed to persuade other young people to assume such a role.

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the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek
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