Military Sweetens Deal, Widens Net for Recruits

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2005 — -- The Army is finding it tougher and tougher to attract new recruits, as casualties in Iraq continue going up with no sign that troop levels there will start going down anytime soon.

The Army missed its recruiting targets in February, the most recent full month for which data is available. It was the first time in nearly four years it had failed to reach a monthly goal, and Army officials said they do not expect to meet targets for March or April, either.

Army recruiting is running about 94 percent of its goals for the current recruiting year, which began Oct. 1.

Hardest hit are the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, which are facing longer and more frequent deployments to Iraq.

The Army National Guard has not met a monthly target since the year began and has met 75 percent of its targets for the current year. The Army Reserve has done a little better, and is at 90 percent.

"We're in a different environment that we were a few years ago," said Army Brig. Gen. Sean Byrne, the Pentagon's director of military personnel policy. "Clearly, a large portion of our force is deployed, both on the active and the Reserve. … You'll probably get the opportunity to see a lot of the world and, in some cases, a lot of places people don't necessarily want to go to. But that's the real world as it is right now."

In response, the Pentagon has raised enlistment bonuses to as much as $20,000 and college tuition benefits for new recruits to $70,000 -- the highest in history. In addition, it is deploying 33 percent more recruiters, one of the biggest increases in years. And to try to keep the troops it has already trained, re-enlistment bonuses have been increased -- and are tax-free if the troops re-enlist while on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Enlisting at 39

The Army National Guard and Reserve recently raised the maximum age for enlistees to 39 from 34 (an act of Congress is needed to change eligibility requirements for the regular Army).

That's opened the door for new enlistees such as James Neikam, a 39-year-old carpenter and construction supervisor from Wallingford, Pa., who joined the National Guard in late March.

Neikam, an avid mountain climber and martial arts enthusiast, said he was considered joining the military when he was in high school, but his parents, friends and teachers talked him out of it. He wanted to enlist after the Sept. 11 attacks, but was turned away because of his age.

"I'm sure there's many people out there just like me that want to serve their country," Neikam said, "and a number shouldn't get in the way of that."

Few Takers at High School

But many younger people are less enthusiastic. Army Pfc. Jaymeson Wilcox, part of a new program that uses veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to explain that the "real story" of Army life is not that bad, found that out after speaking to a classroom of high school seniors in Sterling, Ill.

Wilcox described his experiences in Iraq, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb, but there were no takers.

"I'd definitely join the military if there wasn't a war right now," said one student, Ashlan Humphrey.

Another, Nick Hoefler, said Wilcox's talk "kind of helped me realize that maybe going to Iraq isn't right for me."

John Yang originally reported this story April 10, 2005, on "World News Tonight."