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Donna Miles - American Forces Press Service
Army Secretary Pete Geren is crediting a new National Guard program that brings new recruits into the active Army with a commitment to finish up their tours in the Guard or Reserve as an example of innovative initiatives that are helping maintain the force.
More than 500 recruits enlisted in the “Active First” program since its kick-off Oct. 1. Army Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, director of the Army Guard, said he has no doubt the program will live up to Geren’s 1,600-recruit goal for fiscal 2008.
“Sixteen hundred is not going to be hard, not at all,” Vaughn said.
Geren called the program a partnership that “shows our Army is truly one Army” and is helping the Army keep its ranks filled with quality recruits. That’s particularly important, he said, as the Army increases its active-force end strength by .2 percent by the end of 2010.
“We’re on track to meet that goal, and if our trends continue, we may well exceed it. Certainly we are on track to meet it,” he said. “Active First deserves growing credit for our ability to meet that goal.
“This partnership is bearing great fruit for the total Army,” he added.
The Active First program has three phases. Recruits first join their hometown National Guard unit, which prepares them for the second phase: basic training and an active Army tour. After finishing out their active-duty commitments, the soldiers return to the National Guard to resume their eight-year military obligation.
Vaugh acknowledged that some Active First recruits ultimately may decide to stay on active duty rather than returning to the Guard. “Do we care if they stay on active duty? No. That’s a great thing for the nation,” he said.
Those Active First troops who finish out their commitments in the Guard will be welcomed additions to their Guard units because they can hit the ground running without immediately having to be sent off for training, Vaughn said. “They come back from a professional-development tour in the active duty and they become valued and treasured members of that organization,” he said. “So when we look at this thing and say, ‘Is this a win?’ it is a big win.”
Officials say the program’s strength is that it draws on the National Guard’s close ties in the communities to draw troops into the force. “The Guard has strong contacts in the community all over America, and it is these contacts and the trust that the communities of America have in Guardsmen that enabled this program to get off the ground with such great strength,” Geren said.
Troops who enlist through the program get the benefit of being mentored in their hometowns to ensure they’re prepared for basic training, Vaughn said. They go to the firing ranges with their units and get exposed to a variety of military training activities. “We try to get every experience to them before they get to training,” Vaughn said. “We make sure they start up this path the right way, and they make something for all of us to be proud of,” he said.
About 60 percent of recruits into the Active First program were referred through another soldier, officials said. Pfc. Matt Millen, who joined the program through the Kansas National Guard, said a friend referred him. One Active First recruit, 19-year-old Pvt. Damien L. Jones, said he’s already referred three other recruits through the program.
The program offers big bonus incentives: $40,000 for troops who sign up for four years of active duty, $30,000 for 36 months of active duty, and $20,000 for 30 months of active duty. Active First recruits who return to the National Guard after their active-duty commitments receive another $20,000, officials said.