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Innovative Programs Help Army Maintain Recruiting Comeback

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2006 – A variety of innovative recruiting initiatives, from a program to re-enlist veterans to an increase in the maximum enlistment age for the Army Reserve and National Guard, are being credited with the Army's continued success in reaching its recruiting and retention goals.

All active-duty services exceeded their recruiting goals for December, and four of the six reserve components met or exceeded their December goals, Defense Department officials announced today. Only the Navy Reserve and Air National Guard fell short of their goals.

The Army, the most closely watched service in terms of recruitment, continued its steady comeback among both its active and reserve components after a springtime slump. During December, the Army recruited 741 new members, 106 percent of its goal; 4,456 National Guardsmen, 108 percent of its goal; and 1,341 Army Reservists, 102 percent of its goal, DoD officials said.

Part of that comeback is attributed to a boost in recruiters, from just over 5,100 active-duty and 955 reserve recruiters in 2004 to more than 6,400 active and 1,500 reserve recruiters by the end of fiscal 2005, Douglas Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command, told the American Forces Press Service.

By early November, those numbers had climbed again, to 6,531 and 1,701, respectively, Smith said.

In addition to increasing its recruiting force, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment in the reserve components by five years, Smith said. The change, which went into effect last March and does not apply to the active force, enables prospects who have not yet reached their 40th birthday to join the Army Guard and Reserve, Smith said. The previous age limit was 35.

Under another initiative introduced in 2005, the "Unity of Effort" program, the Army is contacting 78,000 former members to see if they are interested in rejoining the force. The program enables veterans to retain their previous grade if they enlist within 48 months after separation. Depending on their career field, they can receive up to $19,000 in enlistment bonuses, officials said.

Similarly, prior-service officers can re-establish their military service benefits, and in some cases, qualify for a career specialty not available during their past service. If they join the Army Reserve, they can receive a bonus of up to $6,000.

In another new effort, the Army contracted with a new advertising agency, McCann Erickson Worldwide. The agency counts among its clients Coca-Cola, MasterCard, Maybelline, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, and Black & Decker, and is expected to help enhance the Army's communications with young people and their parents.

Army officials said they have no plans to change the "Army of One" theme during the transition to the new advertising agency.

"I'm kind of proud of what the United States Army has done in the last six months," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a Jan. 5 Pentagon briefing, noting that the Army was missing its recruiting goals.

"The leadership of the Army looked at that, put more recruiters on the street, put more advertising out there," Pace said, resulting in the turnaround. "So I think the leadership of the Army recognized a potential problem, did what they should have done, which is apply more assets and leadership to it, and the results have been proved in the last six months. They're doing very well."

The 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law Jan. 6 by President Bush, gives the Army more tools to maintain this momentum.

Among them is a measure that authorizes the secretary of the Army to offer a bonus of up to $1,000 for servicemembers who refer someone who enlists in the Army and successfully completes basic training. This new bonus, if used, would essentially turn any active or reserve member who chooses to become one into a recruiter, Chuck Witschonke, DoD's deputy director for compensation, told the American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

"It would establish a whole new field of recruiters who will help refer people into the military," he said.

Another innovation is a bonus of up to $2,500 for servicemembers who agree to transfer from one service to another and serve for at least three years. Details of the program are still being worked out. But Witschonke said it will be an important incentive for servicemembers whose job series are being downsized to transfer their skills into another service that needs them, particularly the Army.

The new law gives the secretary of the Army a new, broad authority to offer creative new incentives to recruit enlisted members and officers. "We should see some innovative initiatives out of that," Witschonke said.

Recognizing the importance of the reserve components to national defense, the new law provides several initiatives to boost enlistment and retention in the Guard and Reserve.

These include a bonus of up to $100,000 over a career for members with a designated critical skill or who volunteer to serve in a designated high-priority unit.

The law also authorizes an increase in the maximum affiliation bonus for officers in the Selected Reserve, from $6,000 to $10,000, and an extension of eligibility for a prior-service enlistment bonus, to include Selected Reserve members who previously received one, Witschonke said.

"There are a lot of things that are attractive in the bill and will support recruiting and retention," he said.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force also exceeded their recruiting goals for December, reporting 101, 106 and 101 percent of their goals met, respectively, defense officials said today.

In addition, all services met or exceeded their retention goals for December and are expected to meet their year-end retention goals as well.

Among the other reserve components, the Marine Corps Reserve and Air Force Reserve both reached 100 percent of their December goals. The Air National Guard achieved 91 percent of its goal, but continues to retain so many airmen that its end strength remains high, officials said.

The Navy Reserve fell short in December, reaching 78 percent of its recruiting goal for the month. Officials say high retention rates in the active Navy create a shortfall in the recruiting pool for the Navy Reserve.

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