Panel hears Army recruitment woes

Officials blame parental advice and news media coverage of Afghan and Iraqi conflicts

By ELISE WAXENBERG

WASHINGTON - Army officials on Tuesday blamed negative news coverage of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a prospering economy and parental advice as key reasons why the service won't reach its 2005 recruitment targets.

A top Pentagon official, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, raised the possibility that the Army may be forced to lift the enlistment age cap, from 35 to 42.

"I don't think it's a panacea," said Chu in reference to the prospect of enlisting older recruits, but raising the age limit to 42 would still allow recruits to accrue 20 years of service and earn full retirement benefits.

Chu also said the Army is considering a new home ownership program to attract recruits.

Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, the Army deputy chief of staff, told a panel of the House Armed Services Committee that neither the active duty Army nor the National Guard nor the Army Reserve would meet their personnel goals for the 2005 year ending Sept. 30.

The other three services the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force are exceeding their active duty enlistment goals, according to Chu.

The Army was aiming to recruit 80,000 new soldiers by Sept. 30, but enlistment rates through June reached only 86 percent of the goal for the year to date, Chu told the House panel.

Chu said the increasing tempo of operations overseas was a factor in the shortfall, but added, "I do not think it's as large a factor as some commenting on the situation would believe."

The chief obstacle recruiters are facing comes from "older advisers to young Americans," Chu said, including parents whose views on military service were shaped by the Vietnam War.

Lt. Gen. H.P. Osman, Marine Corps deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, said, "The recruiters are working as hard as they ever have, they're getting the leads. The problem is the influencers."

The officials also blamed slumping recruitment rates in part on news coverage.

Chu said he was likewise "lamenting the failure" of the media to report all of the "positive successes" of the military along with the news of bombings and growing insurgency regularly.