November 29, 2005

Army aims to coax back former troops

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army, fresh off missing its
latest annual recruiting goal, has launched an unprecedented
effort to coax former troops to sign up again for active-duty
military service, officials said on Tuesday.

The Army this month began contacting 78,000 people who
previously served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps
to pitch them on the idea of leaving behind their civilian
lives and returning for another stint in uniform, said Lt. Col.
Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

Unlike in the past, they now can return to the Army without
giving up their previous rank or undergo the rigors of basic
training, said Hilferty, who described it as the first program
of its kind for the Army.

The Army fell about 7,000 short of its goal of sending
80,000 recruits into basic training in fiscal 2005, which ended
September 30. Officials attributed the shortfall to the Iraq
war and other factors. The fiscal 2006 recruiting goal again is
set at 80,000.

Hilferty said the new program, which targets people who
left the military within the past five years and particularly
those who were in branches other than the Army, is not a sign
of recruiting desperation.

"I think it's just common sense," Hilferty said. "These are
people with a propensity for service who previously served
honorably and who are trained. If they want to serve, why
shouldn't we offer them that opportunity? And why should we put
up barriers?"

About 7,000 former officers were among the 78,000 receiving
recruiting letters that stated, "There is no higher calling
than service in our armed forces, and this is your opportunity
to answer the call to duty again."

"You've served our country before, and maybe you miss the
adventure, camaraderie, teamwork and leadership opportunities
that the military offers. If so, you can put your previous
military experience and skills to work again as a soldier in
the active Army," the letter adds.


Hilferty said the Army would be pleased if this "Unity of
Effort" recruiting program coaxes 1,000-2,000 former service
members to sign up with the Army. He said it was too early to
tell how well the program is doing.

About 80 percent of the letters went to people who served
in services other than the Army, Hilferty said.

The Army has done away with some policies that had been
barriers to those who in the past might have wanted to return
to duty. For example, those returning under the program will
not have to accept a lower rank and pay grade.

Unlike in the past, they also will be exempted from basic
training. Those who previously served in the Navy, Air Force
and Marines would have to participate in a four-week course to
transition them to Army service from their previous branch of
the military.

Bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $19,000 are being offered
and the Army also dropped a rule that had blocked former
soldiers from getting training in a different career field than
they previously had worked.

Former Coast Guard personnel also can take part in the

The Army provides the bulk of ground troops fighting in an
Iraq war in which more than 2,100 U.S. troops have died in the
2-1/2 years of fighting.

Fiscal 2005 was one of the most difficult recruiting years
since the birth of the all-volunteer U.S. military in 1973,
with the active-duty Army, the Army Reserve and the Army
National Guard all missing their goals.

Officials said the new program is designed not to hurt the
recruiting efforts of other parts of the military.