Official seeks support from Congress, parents in recruiting

20 Jul 2005 | - Army Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample

The Defense Department's head of Reserve affairs told the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel that the reserve component will need help from Congress, as well as "Mom and Dad," to meet its recruiting goals in testimony here July 19.

In a prepared statement, Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, stated that while the Reserve and Guard components have seen "improvement" in recruiting in recent months and that overall retention "remains solid," the all-volunteer force faces a "challenging recruiting environment."

"If you can see your way clear to do so, I would encourage each of you to communicate to your constituents the value of service before self," Hall told the lawmakers. A dropping "propensity to enlist" among young people eligible for military service must be reversed for the all-volunteer force to succeed, he said.

Hall pointed to the pressures of high operational tempo, especially in what he called "high demand, low density" units in support of the global war on terror, the scarcity of prior-service recruits, and a rapidly recovering business climate as the reasons it has been difficult to achieve recruiting goals.

According to Hall, in 2004, four of the six DoD reserve components met or exceeded their recruiting goals. Today, however, those services are seeing mixed results, he said.

DoD figures show that in the first nine months of this fiscal year, four of the six reserve components have fallen short of their recruiting goals.

Through June, with a little over two months to go to meet it quotas, the Army National Guard is at 77 percent of its recruiting goal. The Army Reserve, is at 79 percent, the Naval Reserve is at 92 percent, and the Air National Guard is at 83 percent.

Only the Marine Corps Reserve (100 percent) and Air Force Reserve (114 percent) are above their quotas to date.

"Collectively, we are facing challenges, but we are taking necessary steps to resolve problems," Hall said in his statement.

Due to the realities of war, he acknowledged, parents, teachers, and other influencers have been less inclined to recommend that young people join the military. Emphasizing the value, nobility and necessity of service to the nation is one way to reverse the trend, Hall said.

"Our efforts to recognize the value of service should help this over time," he said. But an improving economy and lower unemployment historically have adversely affected recruiting even in peacetime, he said.

High retention rates in the active components have not helped the reserve component situation, Hall said. He explained that fewer servicemembers are separating from the active components, "and fewer of those who do separate are affiliating with the reserve components."

Hall said the Army, which may be having the most difficulty, is aggressively attacking this problem by adding  recruiters. The service has authorized 1,900 Army National Guard recruiters and 734 Army Reserve recruiters by the end of the fiscal year. In addition, Hall noted, stronger incentives such as increased enlistment bonuses for both prior-service and non-prior-service recruits has helped with recruiting, as well as advertising that targets parents and influencers.

Hall recognized legislators for their support, stating that recruiting and retention has been helped by a 3.1 percent pay raise, increases in  the housing allowance which reduced average out-of-pocket expenses to zero, and targeted increases in pay and allowances for servicemembers fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other dangerous places.

But more is needed, Hall said. He solicited the subcommittee's support for several legislative proposals the Defense Department is formulating to enhance recruiting. Those proposals include paying incentives to get servicemembers leaving the military after fulfilling their active duty obligation to join the Guard and Reserve.

He also requested support for a proposed increase in hardship duty pay for Reserve and Guard members, along with an increase in the allowable amount offered under the Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program. In September 2003, the Army announced and implemented a special re-enlistment bonus program in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and South Korea. Through May, more than 14,500 soldiers had signed up for the Present Duty Assignment Selective Re-enlistment Bonus by re-enlisting to stay with units in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Kuwait. The Army's current program offers bonus amounts up to $15,000 to soldiers in these locations, he said.

"With good success, the reserve components are encouraging eligible members to re-enlist for the increased re-enlistment bonuses while they are in Iraq or Afghanistan to take advantage of the favorable tax treatment of those bonuses."

He also said two provisions in House versions of the fiscal 2006 defense spending bill would very positively affect Reserve component recruiting. The first would repeal the current affiliation bonus authority and combine it with the non-prior service accession bonus. This would provide up to $10,000 to individuals separating from the active forces with remaining military service obligation, and agreeing to serve in the selected reserve for a period of not less than three years in a critical skill, unit or pay grade.

"We believe this will help us overcome the current shortfall in individuals transitioning from active to reserve service," Hall said.

The second provision would authorize a critical skills retention bonus for selected reserve members similar to the current critical skills retention bonus available to the active components.

"This bonus authority would permit us to target those skills by offering bonuses to members who agree to serve in those skills for at least two years," he explained. Servicemembers would be limited to receiving $100,000 over an entire reserve career under this authority, he said.

"This amount is half of the career limit of $200,000 for active component members for a similar bonus authority," he said. "We are certain that this bonus authority will help us retain the right members in the right skills."

Meanwhile, Hall said, the Defense Department is trying to highlight the value of military service by developing a public affairs campaign focusing on bolstering patriotic fervor.

He said the campaign will be aimed at "Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa, of that 'Greatest Generation,' to heighten the awareness and value of military service."

"If we can target parents, grandparents and others to influence the support of their children's and grandchildren's decision to serve, we will have turned the corner."

Headquarters Marine Corps