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Jordan Reimer - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2010 - Despite historic recruitment rates since the end of the military draft, the Defense Department continues to take measures to ensure prolonged recruitment successes, a senior Pentagon official informed Congress yesterday.
Several challenges loom ahead, particularly in the eligibility of potential recruits, Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in written testimony submitted to the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on military personnel.
"I do not take our recent success for granted, nor do I assume the current environment will continue," Stanley said.
In fiscal 2009, for the first time in the history of the all-volunteer force, all four military services and all six reserve components reached their recruiting targets in quantity and quality. All active components also met their retention goals.
These trends have continued through the current fiscal year and are expected to do so, Stanley said.
The economic downturn is partially responsible for this success, he acknowledged, but he added that officials noted a renewed interest in military service as a large contributing factor. A 2007 Army survey demonstrated that 40 percent of new recruits cited patriotism as their primary reason for enlistment.
However, these factors lessen, but do not alleviate, the challenges to maintain recruiting levels," Stanley told the panel.
Of particular concern to defense officials is the eligibility of American youth to serve in the military. Obesity is the most prominent disqualifying factor, along with other medical issues, drug or alcohol abuse, low aptitude, criminal misbehavior, and having too many dependents. Expected economic recovery and high school graduates choosing to go directly to college also affect recruitment rates, Stanley said.
Combining disqualifiers, including college attendance, only 15 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are both available and qualified for military service, defense officials said.
Despite these concerns, Stanley said, the military remains committed to end "Stop Loss," a program that permits involuntary extension of a servicemember's active-duty contract. The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have ended the policy, and the Army is on track to phase it out by March 2011. In the meantime, two retroactive payments have been enacted for members whose service was extended since September 2001.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department must ensure a steady supply of experienced recruiters to prevent a "boom or bust" recruiting cycle, Stanley said. The military currently fields more than 15,000 active-duty recruiters.
"These recruiters often are the sole representative of our military forces in local communities, and they have both my and the department's most sincere respect and gratitude," he said.
Another factor that greatly assists recruiting efforts is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, implemented in August, Stanley said. Of particular note was a provision servicemembers had long sought to transfer the bill's education benefits to their immediate families.
The new law is the most extensive restructuring of education benefits for servicemembers since the original GI Bill.
"The [bill] should enhance our recruiting efforts even more," Stanley said, adding that it will play a crucial role in retention, as well.