Recruits swamp Navy, Air Force
Army and Marines struggle with goals
By Dave Moniz
WASHINGTON — While the Army and the Marine Corps are straining to meet their yearly recruiting goals, the Air Force and the Navy are having banner years and may wind up turning away thousands of potential recruits.
The Air Force says it is so overstocked that it has a backlog of about 9,000 enlistees who have not yet been called to duty. It has slashed its 2005 recruiting target from 35,000 to 24,000. Together, the Air Force and Navy say they are planning to reduce the total number of troops by more than 27,000 in 2005. In contrast, the Army and the Marine Corps, which are providing the bulk of ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, are adding more than 12,000 troops this year.
One of the primary reasons the Air Force and the Navy are so flush with troops and willing recruits, personnel experts say, is that those branches have suffered relatively few casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I think the most obvious explanation is that you're less likely to be killed or wounded in the Navy or Air Force,” says Richard Kohn, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies military culture.
Of the more than 1,350 U.S. deaths during the Iraq war, 41 have come from the Air Force and the Navy, according to a Defense Department breakdown of war deaths. The vast majority of those killed are active Army and Marine Corps troops and reservists from those two branches.
The four military branches say they have no way to directly measure the effect that war injuries and deaths are having on each service's recruiting. “There is no way to quantify it, no block on an application that you can check for that,” says Maj. Dave Griesmer, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Both the Marines and the Army say they expect to meet their recruiting goals this year but acknowledge it will be difficult.
There are other reasons for the bounty of personnel in the Air Force and the Navy and the strains facing the Army and Marine Corps:
•The Navy and the Air Force traditionally have more high-tech jobs that give enlistees valuable skills when they leave for civilian work. Even in peacetime, the Navy and the Air Force typically have an easier time recruiting than the Army and the Marines.
•Overall retention rates in the military have risen sharply since 9/11 and are well above historic levels in the Air Force and the Navy.
• The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been labor intensive for the Army and the Marines, the nation's primary ground combat forces. In contrast, the Navy and the Air Force have largely played a supporting role since major combat in Iraq ended in May 2003.