U.S. Army recruitment numbers were down for the fourth consecutive month in May, and officials said a "monumental effort" will be made to avoid missing the Army's annual target for the first time in six years.
The Department of Defense announced Friday that the Army missed its May goal by 1,600 recruits, nearly 25 percent, despite having lowered the target from 8,050 to 6,700. Meanwhile, the Army Reserve met only 82 percent of its recruitment goal.
The Pentagon, which usually issues recruitment figures at the beginning of every month, delayed releasing the May numbers until Friday in order to minimize the media glare on the Army's recent recruiting shortfalls, according to sources quoted in The New York Times.
"It is indeed going to be a push to make up the shortfalls [we have] before the end of the fiscal year, but we are going to do everything we can [to meet the target]," said Douglas Smith, a public affairs officer for U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
The Pentagon is considering asking Congress to double the enlistment bonus from $20,000 to $40,000 and to raise the age limit for active-duty service personnel from 35 to 40. "Today's 40-year-old may no longer be old," Smith said. "People are in a lot better shape now than in the past."
The Army is also looking to boost enlistment with a new benefit that will help soldiers purchase homes. The pilot program would pay up to $50,000 in mortgage costs for recruits who enlist for eight years of duty.
Along with adding more than 1,000 recruiters, the Army launched a new ad campaign in April targeting prospective student recruits and their parents. Instead of using images of war and combat, the new Army ads, with names like "Smart Guy" and "Good Training," emphasize educational and personal-growth opportunities. Some ads specifically target Latinos and include the tagline "Yo Soy El Army" ("I Am the Army").
The Army has received widespread criticism lately about overly aggressive recruiting tactics. A one-day "stand down" was held last month in response to the claims (see "Army Has One-Day 'Stand Down' To Focus On Recruiting Tactics").
There is also a growing number of counter-recruitment efforts emerging on high school and college campuses (see "U.S. Army Misses Enlistment Goal, Counter-Recruitment Efforts Rise"), but Smith said the Army is not concerned with the demonstrations. "We defend America and all its freedoms, and freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental," he said. "As long as we are able to speak to students, we're not going to complain about others who may [also] speak to them."
Bill Carr, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, said he's optimistic that recruiting will pick up in the summer, when recent high school graduates filter into recruiting stations. Compared to the traditionally slow spring recruiting season, "summer is an enormously more favorable environment," he said.