What a difference a year makes. Despite predictions by some commentators that last year's recruiting shortfall would be repeated this year as the violence continues in Iraq, the Army is on track to meet its annual goal of 80,000 new recruits.
The Army isn't alone: All the active-duty military services are on pace to meet or exceed their annual recruiting goals.
Pentagon officials attribute the turnaround this year to the presence of more recruiters and more financial incentives. An additional reason for the Army's success so far has been the lowering of monthly goals for most of the recruiting year and the signficant increase in the monthly goals for the summer months, which have historically proven to be the most successful recruiting period.
This June marked the ninth month in a row that the Army has met or exceeded its monthly recruiting goal.
The recruiting goal for June 2005 was 6,159 new recruits. Though the monthly goals at the start of the recruiting year were lowered, this year's June recruiting goal was increased to 8,600. Pentagon figures released today show Army recruiters exceeded their first real recruiting challenge, as 8,765 new recruits were signed up.
If the trend continues through July, August and September, Army officials are confident they will have overcome last year's recruiting shortfall.
Pentagon officials say the recruiting success is not the result of any lowering of its quality standards. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today that 90 percent of all recruits have high school diplomas and nearly two-thirds have scored in the top half of military entrance exams.
The Army has received millions in new funding to pay for additional recruiters and added bonuses. According to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty about half the current total 51,612 new soldiers signed up this year have qualified for enlistment bonuses.
In some of the more hard-to-fill positions a new recruit could qualify for as much as $40,000 in enlistment bonuses, but Hilferty says the average goal for those recruits that qualify is $5,000.
While today's figures have boosted the confidence of Army officials, the optimism hasn't always been the case.
Just a few weeks ago, Army Reserves Chief Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz told reporters the Reserves were likely to come in at 96 percent of their recruiting and retention goals for this year.
The figures released today may cast doubt on that prediction, as the Army Reserves exceeded their their monthly recruiting goal by 121 percent and retention came in at 101 percent.
The Army Reserves' recruiting difficulties are unique because their primary source of new recruits are retiring active-duty soldiers. With Army statistics showing that two of every three eligible soldiers are re-upping, the Reserves' pool of available recruits is getting smaller.
The retention rate is also affected by the growing numbers of Reserve soldiers crossing over to join the active-duty Army. Last year, 1,300 more soldiers went from the Reserves into active-duty than those who left active-duty to join the Reserves.
In an effort to boost the ranks even further, the Army has twice this year raised the maximum active duty age to 42. This January, the Army followed in the footsteps of the Army Reserves, which last year raised its age limit from 35 to 40. In June, that maximum eligibility was raised to 42.
An Army factsheet says the January age boost was an interim step while the Army worked out additional medical screening requirements for recruits aged 40 to 42. Since the age limits were raised in both the Army and Army Reserve, more than 1,000 new recruits have qualified for enlistment.