July 12, 2005

U.S. National Guard chief sees recruiting shortfall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Army National Guard, tapped
heavily by the Pentagon for soldiers in Iraq, likely will miss
its recruiting goal for the third straight year, the general
who runs it said on Tuesday.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard
Bureau at the Pentagon, argued that the Army National Guard was
not in "serious crisis mode" even as it stood about 19,000
troops below the 350,000-strong force authorized by Congress.

Blum said potential recruits and their families were wary
about wartime service. He also said the media have exaggerated
the peril faced by National Guard soldiers fighting in Iraq and

"I shouldn't say it to this group, but I'm going to," Blum
told a gathering of reporters. "It is misrepresented how
dangerous it really is."

"You have to remember I've sent over a quarter of a million
National Guard soldiers to war in the last three years to
places like Afghanistan and Iraq, for times of over a year. And
I don't want to use the word 'only,' so I won't. But our total
casualties are 262," Blum said.

"You compare that with any other conflict in the history of
this nation, it is remarkably low," Blum said, while adding any
deaths were tragic for families involved. "I lose,
unfortunately, more people through private automobile accidents
and motorcycle accidents in the same period of time."

More than 1,750 U.S. troops have been killed and 13,000
wounded in the war.

The Army National Guard has missed its recruiting goals in
every month of fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 30, and was more
than 10,000 recruits short of where it had planned to be at the
end of June, Pentagon figures showed.

Asked if the Army National Guard will reach its fiscal 2005
goal of 63,002 new soldiers, Blum said, "Is it possible? Yes,
it's physically possible. Is it likely? No, it's not likely
that we're going to close that gap in the next two months."

The Army National Guard also fell short in fiscal 2003 and
2004, said Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman.


The Army National Guard is struggling more than any other
part of the all-volunteer U.S. military to attract recruits
amid the Iraq war. By the end of July, Blum said, the Army
National Guard will reach its peak personnel contribution since
the war began in March 2003, with eight combat brigades in
Iraq. Such brigades usually have about 3,000 soldiers.

He expected two or three such brigades would be deployed in
the next troop rotation for yearlong service in Iraq.

The Army National Guard was formed as a part-time force,
with its members living civilian lives while doing periodic
military training. But the Pentagon has relied heavily on its
soldiers in combat roles in Iraq.

Unlike soldiers in the part-time Army Reserve, made up of
federal troops, those in the National Guard serve under the
control of state governors usually for roles like disaster
relief in their home states. They can be summoned to
active-duty Army service in times of national need.

Congress has authorized the Army National Guard to have
350,000 people in uniform. Blum said it currently had about
331,000, and reaching 350,000 was "very achievable probably in
the next 18 months."

"I need roughly 20,000, a little less," Blum said. "Do I
need them? Yeah, I need them. Can we operate without them?
Yeah, we are."

"We're doing pretty damned good when you consider that
we've been at war now for 3 1/2 years and the Guard has been
used at an unprecedented rate, averaging close to 100,000
people called up (to active duty) on any given day since 9/11
(the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks), in sustained combat," Blum said.