Uncle Sam wants you. Real bad

Army recruiting numbers continue to crater, falling 32 percent short during the month of March.

Published May 3, 2005 11:09AM (EDT)

Turns out these days Uncle Sam's about as popular as detention on American high school campuses. For the third straight month the U.S. Army failed to reach its recruiting goals.

"As of April 30 the Army had achieved only 85% of its target for the first five months of the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1," according to the Associated Press. "Opinion surveys have indicated that a growing number of young people and their parents are wary of the Army's recruiting pitch at a time when soldiers in Iraq are killed and wounded virtually every day. Spring is typically one of the more difficult periods of the year for military recruiters."

The shortfall is not only an embarrassment for the Pentagon, but it puts real strain on the armed forces as it's stretched around the world, particularly in the Gulf region. Some experts have fretted that if the military continues to come up short on recruits, and U.S. troops remain committed to Iraq for years on end, that the possibility looms that a draft may be needed. Politically, it's highly unlikely. But as recruiting numbers continue to sag, the option cannot be ruled out.

And it's not like the Army is falling just short of its monthly goals. It's not even coming close. According to one military spokesman quoted by the AP, the Army fell 32 percent short of its March goal of landing 6,800 recruits. That means despite a nationwide concerted effort to hit its goals, and a country of roughly 10 million 18 to 24-year olds, the Army, wielding all kinds of incentives, was able to sign up only 4,600 recruits in March.

News on the Army and Guard front is even worse: "The Army National Guard and Army Reserve have had even more trouble recruiting. In March the Army Reserve signed up barely half the 1,600 soldiers it sought [Empasis added]."

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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