WASHINGTON - Army Secretary Noel Harvey and vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody said Monday that the Army was using looser Defense Department rules that permitted it to sign up more high school dropouts and people who score lower on mental-qualification tests, but they denied that this meant it was lowering standards.
Until Army recruiters began having trouble signing up enough recruits earlier this year, the Army had set minimum standards that were higher than those of the Defense Department.
The Army has a recruiting shortfall of 6,000 to 8,000 soldiers over the past 12 months. It hasn't fallen so short of its annual goal since 1979, several years after the Vietnam war.
Harvey and Cody addressed the recruiting issue in news conferences during the annual convention of the Association of the U.S. Army.
The Department of Defense "standards on qualification tests call for at least 60 percent Category 1 to 3 (the higher end of testing) and 4 percent Category 4," the lowest end, Harvey said. "The other services follow that standard and the Army National Guard always followed it as well. But the active Army chose a standard of 67 percent in Categories 1-3, and 2 percent Category 4." It now would use the Defense Department guidelines, he said.
Cody said that increasing the number of people with General Education Diplomas allowed to enlist in the Army wasn't really a lowering of standards. GEDs are certificates granted in lieu of high school diplomas to dropouts who can pass an examination.
The Army's figures show 6.5 percent of all enlisted soldiers held GED certificates at the end of 2004, the last year statistics were available. The Army plans to keep its limit on new soldiers with GEDs at 10 percent in any year.
Harvey said the Army was working hard to resolve its recruitment problem.
He said the number of soldiers on recruiting duty is increasing from 9,000 to 12,000, and the Army is asking Congress to increase enlistment bonuses from a maximum of $20,000 to a new limit of $40,000 for some who choose branches where there are shortages. The advertising budget for the Army was being boosted by $130 million.
The problem, Harvey said, is "a combination of three factors: a good economy, the war in Iraq and parents reluctant to see their sons and daughters enlist" because of the war.
He confirmed that the recruiting shortfall was affecting the Army's plans to temporarily increase troop strength of the active force by 30,000.
The Army secretary said the long-term Army plan was to increase the operational Army, the soldiers who fight, from the current 315,000 to 350,000, while maintaining today's total strength of 482,000.
By comparison, in 1980 the U.S. Army's active-duty strength was 780,000.
Cody said there was bad news and good news on manpower. "We didn't make our goal in recruiting," Cody said. "But we reached 108 percent of our goal in retaining those soldiers already in the Army."
That means that the soldiers who come in the Army "stay with us," Cody said. He added that even after a combat tour and on the eve of heading back to Iraq, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) re-enlisted at a rate that was double what the Army had hoped to achieve.
Cody said that if the enlistment numbers had been met this year, there might have been an end to the involuntary extensions of the enlistments of thousands of soldiers.
Copyright 2005 Knight Ridder