Sorting out Army recruitment

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Recently, an internally contradictory Chronicle editorial noted the following:

OF the many institutions buffeted by the controversy over the war in Iraq, the U.S. Army has been one of the more bruised. For the first time since 1999, officials announced, the Army expects to miss its yearly enlistment goals. As of June, only 47,121 recruits had signed up to fight — just over half the number needed to meet the annual quota.

This week, the New York Post ran an op-ed by Ralph Peters that made the following claims:

* Every one of the Army’s 10 divisions — its key combat organizations — has exceeded its re-enlistment goal for the year to date. Those with the most intense experience in Iraq have the best rates. The 1st Cavalry Division is at 136 percent of its target, the 3rd Infantry Division at 117 percent.

Among separate combat brigades, the figures are even more startling, with the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division at 178 percent of its goal and the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Mech right behind at 174 percent of its re-enlistment target.

This is unprecedented in wartime. Even in World War II, we needed the draft. Where are the headlines?

* What about first-time enlistment rates, since that was the issue last spring? The Army is running at 108 percent of its needs. Guess not every young American despises his or her country and our president.

* The Army Reserve is a tougher sell, given that it takes men and women away from their families and careers on short notice. Well, Reserve recruitment stands at 102 percent of requirements.

* And then there’s the Army National Guard. We’ve been told for two years that the Guard was in free-fall. Really? Guard recruitment and retention comes out to 106 percent of its requirements as of June 30. (I’ve even heard a rumor that Al Franken and Tim Robbins signed up — but let’s wait for confirmation on that.)

Whenever people start throwing numbers around, it’s always a good idea to go right to the source. NRO’s Stephen did that, and discovered that Peters’ numbers are slightly off:

I spoke with Peters, and it turns out he was most likely the victim of a bureaucratic mix-up. The year-to-date numbers are here. According to a Pentagon spokesman, Peters apparently got the overall Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard re-enlistment numbers instead of the first-time enlistment numbers. In other words, the re-enlistment rates for those three organizations are 108 percent, 102 percent, and 106 percent respectively.

The Army, Army National Guard, and several reserve branches are falling short of their annual quotas, as the official DoD numbers demonstrate. However, the Chronicle‘s characterization of the recruiting effort is somewhat deceptive, since it gives the impression that Army recruiting is off by nearly 50%. That impression is wrong. As of June, the Army was at 86% of its quota (the other branches were exceeding their targets). With a strong July recruiting effort, the Army was at 89% of its quota. It’s not clear why the Chronicle chose to cite the June 2005 numbers when the July 2005 numbers were readily available.

In any case, Army recruiting is off, but it’s entirely possible that the branch could finish within 90+ percent of its quota. That’s not the impression the casual reader would likely reach from the Chronicle‘s formulation.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX