Despite predictions to the contrary, Americans are continuing to volunteer for the military, and those already in service are re- enlisting at a vigorous rate.
Early in the global war on terrorism, many critics predicted the United States would have to return to the draft to man the forces. But in this 30th year of the all-volunteer force, the military continues to meet recruiting and retention goals.
"It's really too early to see what effect Operation Iraqi Freedom will have on recruiting, but the most recent statistics are encouraging," said Air Force Maj. Sandy Burr, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Burr said DoD is making all quality and quantity goals. "We are exceeding the DoD benchmark for percentage of high school graduates and the percentage of people in the upper half of the (armed forces entrance exam)."
Service officials point to the hard work by recruiters as the key to the success, but they also say increased patriotism as a result of the war on terror and a bleak economic picture in many areas also may play a role in attracting young people to the military.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all are on course to make year-end recruiting goals. In the reserve components, the Army National Guard is lagging a bit, but officials have dedicated extra resources to the shortfall and expect to make the recruiting goals by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The Air Force made its recruiting goals for fiscal 2003, enlisting 32,000 new airmen. This was the fourth year in a row that the service met its goal.
The Navy also is meeting all recruiting goals for fiscal 2003. Navy Recruiting Command officials said the service is on track to bring in 41,767 new sailors. The Navy's retention picture is so good this year, the service was able to lower its goal from the 48,000-recruit target set at the beginning of fiscal 2003.
The Army is doing "very, very well," said Doug Smith, a spokesman with the Army Recruiting Command. The service fully anticipates hitting its recruiting targets this year, as the service has since fiscal 2000, Smith said. Through August, the Army has recruited 67,354 soldiers, with enough enrolled under the delayed entry program to make the 73,800 needed by the end of September. Again, retention has driven down the number of new soldiers needed. The Army's recruiting goal at the beginning of the fiscal year was set at 76,000.
The Marine Corps continues its string of excellent recruiting years. The Corps will "ship" 38,914 recruits to its two training bases. The Marines have monthly, rather than annual, shipping quotas. If the service continues to achieve its recruiting goals through November, it will have done so for 100 straight months.
Retention also is up across the services. This is especially true of service members making the choice to re-enlist following their first term in the service. In the Navy, the "Zone A" re-enlistment rate from October 2002 to June 2003 was 70.3 percent. The Navy's goal was 56 percent. Air Force "first termers" re-enlisted at a 60 percent rate. The service was shooting for 55 percent. The Army needed 13,833 first-term soldiers to re- enlist. Instead 14,599 soldiers re-upped, for 106 percent of the retention target.
The Marine Corps did not have retention figures available.