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General blames brass for recruiting shortfall
Columbia Daily Tribune
The Dallas Morning News
Published Wednesday, December 15, 2004

WASHINGTON - Army Reserve recruiting is in a "precipitous decline" that could provoke new debate over a draft if not slowed, the Reserve's top general said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Ron Helmly - who said he opposes reinstituting a draft - blamed the bureaucracy for dragging its feet implementing new bonuses for recruits and re-enlistments that Congress included in this year's defense bill.

"The bureaucracy is much too sluggish, much too unresponsive," Helmly said.

"Congress was very energetic and concerned about Reserve component as well as active component recruiting, retention and strength, and was therefore very supportive of these measures," he said of the bonuses and other new authorities. "Now we need to get on and execute those."

Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Richard declined to directly respond to Helmly's comments.

"The defense department is working diligently in its efforts to provide its service leadership, its military senior leadership, with every tool and resource that is available to provide and maintain force requirements," Richard said.

Rep. Vic Snyder of Arkansas, the senior Democrat on the Total Force Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said it was "premature, in my view as a member of the Armed Services Committee, to say the Pentagon's not moving" on implementing the regulations.

President George W. Bush signed the defense authorization bill containing the new authorities only six weeks ago, on Oct. 28, Snyder noted.

"If we wanted to move more quickly, we should have passed it earlier," he said. "I just don't think there's been enough time" to write regulations implementing it.

The Army Reserve and most other branches of the military met their recruiting and retention goals last year, but the Army National Guard and Air National Guard fell short. The Army Guard achieved 87 percent of its recruiting objective, and the Air Guard 94 percent.

For the first two months of fiscal year 2005, which began Oct. 1, the Army Reserve also has lagged, falling 315 recruits short of its goal of 3,170 - a drop of 10 percent, Helmly said. An improving job market and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be the reasons for the decline, he said.

If the trend continues, said Helmly, the Reserve could fall more than 5,000 soldiers short of its mandated end-strength of 205,000.

Congress allows the services to finish each year within 2 percent of their mandated end-strengths, Helmly said.

"I am projecting now that absent drastic action ... we will be below that 2 percent," he said. The Army Reserve is already about 2,500 soldiers beneath the 205,000 mark.

Helmly said he and his staff have "pulled out all stops" to try to reverse the recruiting decline, rushing to add 400 new Army Reserve recruiters to the existing team of 1,040 by reassigning members from other job specialties.

"People are only given one, two weeks' notice that they're leaving their assignment and going to recruiting duty," he said.

The addition of so many new recruiters - requiring special background checks - has "flooded the investigators" who conduct such reviews, he said. "They're scrambling to catch up."

Once they do, said Helmly, he plans to add another 100 to 300 recruiters in calendar year 2005.

Army Reserve retention so far is holding steady at 103 percent of the goal for the first two months of fiscal 2005, said Helmly, but he worries that that could slip as well in coming months.

If it does, and if the Army Reserve and other reserve components fail to reverse recruiting shortfalls they have suffered so far this year, it could fuel debate over whether the country needs to abandon the all-volunteer force and return to conscription, Helmly said.

Bush has vowed that there will be no return to a draft while he is president, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military officers have also opposed conscription.

So does Helmly, who said that a "draft is a terribly inefficient, ineffective way of manning armed services."

But if the strains of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan erode the Pentagon's ability to field an all-volunteer force, he warns, "we will force the nation into an argument over that."

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