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Guard Continues Brisk Recruiting Pace

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2008 – The Army National Guard has been so successful recruiting and retaining citizen-soldiers that officials purposely slowed May enlistments, National Guard Bureau officials reported.

The Army and Air National Guard continued a brisk recruiting pace in May that has filled out the ranks of the Guard across the board.

A decade-long decline in recruiting doctors, dentists and physician assistants was reversed in 2007, with a 20 percent increase. Recruiters anticipate a 60 percent increase in 2008 as they execute a four-year recovery program for the field.

The Army National Guard was at 102 percent of its authorized strength limit in May, and the Air National Guard was at 99.5 percent, National Guard Bureau figures show. The Air Guard now is within a half percent of its authorized end strength, while the Army Guard continues to exceed it.

The Air Guard exceeded its 680-enlistment May recruiting goal by almost a third, signing up 892 new airmen, 131.32 percent of what the Air Guard set out to accomplish.

The Army Guard recruited 94 percent of its 5,635-soldier goal, with 5,311 trainees signing on the line. The rate of new enlistments has been slowed by the Army Guard because of the success of its recruiting and retention efforts, and so the Guard doesn’t exceed its authorized strength limit, NGB officials explained. The Army Guard has recruited 109 percent of its fiscal year 2008 target to this point.

Both Guard organizations continued to exceed their retention goals. The Army Guard retained 103.4 percent of the 19,648 soldiers it wanted to keep, with 20,324 electing to extend their enlistments.

Meanwhile, the Air Guard exceeded its retention goals by more than 10 percent, keeping 11,774 airmen, or 110.2 percent of the 10,684 it set out to retain.

The Air Guard continues to boost recruiting efforts. It recently partnered with Nashville country music recording artist Laura Bryna for a new advertising campaign featuring the song “Hometown Heroes,” written specially for the Air Guard.

And the Army Guard continues to reap the rewards of recruiting initiatives already in place. The Active First program, for example, has resulted in 1,775 enlistments since it was inaugurated. Under the program, recruits commit to service in the active Army followed by service in the National Guard. Pvt. Raymond Loree was the first Army National Guard soldier to graduate directly into the active Army's ranks through Active First when he completed his training Feb. 22 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Loree enlisted Oct. 18. Active First recruits enlist in the Army Guard and attend monthly drills until they complete their initial entry training.

Following IET, soldiers can serve up to 48 months on active duty, with the option to continue an active-duty career or return to their Guard unit.

The National Guard was tasked with enlisting 1,600 recruits through Active First during this fiscal year; with 1,775 enlistments, it already has exceeded that goal.

In 2005, the Army National Guard was short more than 450 chaplains. New recruiting strategies have cut that shortage almost in half, and officials anticipate it virtually closing within two years.

“The last three years have set records,” said Army Chaplain (Maj.) Timothy Baer, chief of specialty branch recruiting at the Guard Bureau. “We’re just taking off.”

All this has occurred in spite of a significant hurdle. “We’ve had a lot of mandatory retirements because of age,” Baer explained. “In the midst of those losses, we still were able to excel at our mission.”

As has been the case throughout the recruiting and retention field, Baer cited a retooling of efforts as the key to success:

-- Chaplains recruiting chaplains. Subject-matter experts have replaced generalists. “That was the first time the Guard had ever done that,” Baer said.

-- Recruiters adopting a total marketing program. That includes an Internet presence and chaplain-targeted promotional items. “All of those things have added more name recognition and increased our market share,” Baer said.

-- Improving incentives. Enticements now include a $10,000 chaplain bonus, a $30,000 critical skills retention bonus and a $20,000 student loan repayment.

-- Recruiters telling the story better. “The chaplains are an emissary of grace in this atmosphere of war,” Baer said. “Many people didn’t realize what a chaplain does. It’s taking care of soldiers, and that resonates with people.”

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau.)

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