Bonus boosts Guard recruiting
WASHINGTON — The Army National Guard, which has suffered a severe three-year recruiting slump, has begun to reel in soldiers in record numbers, aided in part by a new initiative that pays Guard members $2,000 for each person they help enlist.
Through February, the Army Guard signed up more than 26,000 soldiers in the first five months of fiscal 2006, exceeding its target by 7 percent in its best performance in 13 years. At this pace, Guard leaders say they are confident they will reach their goal of boosting manpower from the current 336,000 to the congressionally authorized level of 350,000 by the end of the year.
"Will we make 350,000? The answer is: Absolutely," said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
One factor in the recruiting success is the initiative, expanded to 22 states in December, that christened 31,000 Guard members nationwide as "recruiting assistants" who can earn $2,000 for every enlistee — $1,000 when the recruit signs a contract and another $1,000 when he or she enters boot camp or completes four months of service.
The rebound is striking because since 2003, the Army Guard has performed worse in annual recruiting than any other branch of the U.S. military. The Guard was shrinking while it was being asked to shoulder a big part of the burden in Iraq. Together with the Army Reserve it supplied as many as 40 percent of the troops in Iraq while also dispatching tens of thousands of its members to domestic disasters.
Today, the Guard is surpassing its goals and growing in strength — a welcome boost for an all-volunteer Army stretched thin by unprecedented deployments. In recent months, the Guard enlisted nearly as many troops as the active-duty Army, even though it is a much smaller force. Indeed, the Army Guard, present in about 3,500 U.S. communities, will launch pilot programs this year to recruit for the entire Army.
The prospect of serving in a violent Iraq is still part of the equation for potential recruits, and Army officials say more frequent deployments have hurt recruitment for the active-duty Army, which began suffering shortfalls last year. The Guard has tried to address that concern by establishing a rotation cycle of one year abroad for every five years at home, which lends more predictability to the commitment, recruiters and military analysts say.
Hawai'i Guard and Reserve units returned this year from 15-month deployments to Iraq.