WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army said Tuesday it began accepting more recruits who have not finished high school, a concession to an enlistment market that has tightened even as the number of inductees the Army needs has grown.
Besides lowering the standard on high school graduates, the Army is offering a range of new financial and other incentives to attract recruits, said Lt. Gen. Frederick Vollrath, the Army’s chief personnel officer.
Vollrath said publicity about a rash of sexual harassment allegations in the Army, combined with controversy over a mysterious Gulf War syndrome, has hurt recruiting. But he said the effects could not be measured with precision.
More important, in the Army’s view, are the difficulties that recruiters face in luring young people away from opportunities in business and higher education.
“The quality has slipped a little bit” as recruiting has gotten harder, Vollrath said. By historic standards, the quality of the force remains high, he added.
Defense Secretary William Cohen referred to the drop-off in recruit quality when he testified before Congress last week. He placed the blame on negative publicity.
“Every time you have a bad headline, it impacts recruiting,” Cohen said. He acknowledged “some area of concern, some slight slippage” in the quality indicators he has seen on recruiting, and said, “If we can eliminate those headlines, we can solve the problem in recruiting.”
Preliminary figures for the first four months of the 1997 budget year (October 1996-January 1997) show the Army has scored lowest among the services on two of the three major yardsticks by which recruit quality is measured.
In that four-month period, 90 percent of the Army’s recruits were holders of high school diplomas, compared with 91 percent for the Navy, 94 percent for the Marines and 99 percent for the Air Force.
Vollrath said the Army had abandoned its goal of having no fewer than 95 percent high school graduates in its recruit pool. It lowered the goal to 90 percent, which is the minimum required by the Defense Department for all services.
The Navy and Marines are sticking to their goal of 95 percent high school graduates, and the Air Force is keeping its goal of 99 percent, spokesmen said.
At an Army recruiting post in Washington, D.C., Staff Sgt. William Stanley told a visiting reporter on Tuesday that recruit candidates still must earn a general equivalency degree to qualify if they don’t have a high school diploma.
“It shows someone has the desire to try to push themselves and better themselves,” Stanley said, so they are equally likely to make good soldiers.
The Army also has suffered a drop-off in a separate measure of recruit quality: aptitude test scores. Its goal is to have no more than 2 percent of its recruits from the lowest aptitude test category, but that climbed to 4 percent in the first four months of the budget year. The other services have done better; the Navy, for example, accepted zero recruits from this test category.
Even though the Army is not growing in overall numbers, it has needed more recruits in the past two years to make up for big drop-offs during the early 1990s. This year, for example, it needs 89,700 inductees, up from 63,000 two years ago.
Among the new incentives the Army is offering:
ù A maximum individual enlistment bonus of $12,000, up from $8,000. Also, the overall bonus budget is being increased from $12 million to $44 million for the year.
ù More recruits are being offered two-year terms of service instead of the typical four-year obligation.
The Army also is increasing its advertising budget by $15 million this year, to $86 million; putting more recruiters on the job and deferring until late in the year a portion of the recruiting goal it had set for the early part of the year.