WASHINGTON -- The US National Guard has fallen some 10,000 people below its authorized strength of 350,000 in part because fewer soldiers are joining the guard on leaving active duty, a military spokesman said.
"It's short by approximately 10,000. The number right now is right around 340,000," said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Milord, a spokesman for the National Guard bureau.
The National Guard also fell some 7,000 people short of its goal of recruiting 63,000 people in fiscal 2004, he said.
The declines suggest that the Iraq war is beginning to have a long-feared impact on a part of the force that the army in particular has drawn on heavily for both support and combat troops.
Milord said several factors were believed to be contributing to the drop-off.
"We have the active duty army that is growing by 30,000. So obviously we're all looking at the same pool for the same people," he said.
Another factor was the imposition of stop-loss orders, which bar servicemembers in units deploying to Iraq or in Iraq from leaving the service for three months after their return even if they are due to retire or their term of enlistment is up, Milord said.
"Part of it is soldiers who normally or typically come off active duty into the guard .. are not doing that in as big a number," he said.
The National Guard is responding to the slide by increasing reenlistment bonuses to as much as 15,000 dollars for recruits with prior military service, increasing college tuition bonuses and by fielding more recruiters, Milord said.
He said the guard is adding 1,400 recruiters, increasing the size of its recruiting force to 4,100.
Copyright © 2004 Agence France Presse