If you pay attention to the New York Times, the leadership of the Democratic Party, or the left wing pundits filling the airwaves, you get the impression that the U. S. Army is struggling to find men and women willing to volunteer in the service of their country. Recently released statistics, though, seem to contradict that assumption.
When the Army failed to meet its recruiting goals a couple of years ago, many saw it as a sign that young people in America were staying away from military service because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many complained that we did not have enough soldiers to meet our global commitments. Congress responded by raising the statutory limit on troop levels, as if changing the number on paper would somehow magically produce new soldiers to fight the war on terror.
The worry about a withering Army, however, seems to have been misplaced. According to the Washington Times, the Army is on track to meet its goal of 80,000 new recruits for the fiscal year that ends September 30. At this point in the recruiting cycle, the Army has surpassed its goal of 70,000 new recruits with 72,997 signing up so far. And the Associated Press has reported that the Army is having its best recruiting year since 1997, with similar success expected in 2007.
It is important to note that the Army is the branch of service suffering the largest number of killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The recently released statistics seem to undermine the belief that the war on terror is driving young men and women away from uniformed service.
Still, there will be those who point out that the Army has raised its age limit for new recruits from 38 to 42. But these critics fail to understand that not every job in the Army requires someone under the age of 25. Not every soldier will fight in the infantry. And those new recruits who are older than the average enlistee are still required to meet the Army's physical fitness standards. It would be foolish for the Army to exclude Americans who want to serve their country based solely on their age.
Others will point out that the Army has increased benefits such as college tuition reimbursement and enlistment bonuses. But what private company doesn't sweeten the pot by offering incentives to potential employees? The Army is no different, and with an all-volunteer force must compete against the private sector for its employees.
And the Army is not alone when it comes to recruiting. The Navy and Air Force are also on target to meet their recruiting goals. So is the Marine Corps, which has responsibility for the deadly Al-Anbar province, including the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, in western Iraq. The Washington Times reports that the Marine Corps will meet its goal of 32,701 new recruits without any increase in benefits or change in enlistment requirements.
By focusing on statistics for new recruits, however, the left misses an important fact. Retention statistics, which account for the number of soldiers who agree to reenlist, are at an all-time high. More soldiers are choosing to stay in the Army, even after multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even more remarkably, retention numbers are highest for units who are forward deployed in combat zones!
Could it be that the Army is an attractive option for young job seekers? Could it be that skill training (there are over 200 different jobs in the Army), college tuition benefits, health care coverage, and a regular paycheck are attracting young men and women to military service? Could it be that there are patriotic citizens in this country with a genuine desire to serve their nation in its time of need?
The truth is, recruiting and retention numbers can be explained by all of these factors. Raising the age limit for new recruits has opened the door to military service for a new segment of the population. College tuition benefits and skill training attract young people who might otherwise have difficulty marketing themselves to the private sector. And men and women with a sincere desire to serve their country are signing up in the face of renewed violence in Afghanistan and an unrelenting insurgency in Iraq.
In their effort to push as much negativity as possible about the war on terror, the liberal left has lost focus on the fact that the United States is locked in a life-and-death struggle for its very survival. And that loss of focus has obscured the truth that for more reasons than not, Americans are enlisting and staying in the service of their nation.