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Army to meet recruit goals

Prediction follows last year's shortfall

WASHINGTON -- The Army says it will meet its 2006 recruiting goal, pulling itself up from a severe shortfall last year.

The Pentagon's largest service -- and the one bearing the brunt of the burden in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- enlisted 10,890 people last month.

That brings the total to 62,505 for the year and puts the Army on course to meet its goal of 80,000 for the budget year ending next month, Jeff Spara, Army recruiting division chief, said yesterday.

``We are going to make the mission," he said during a Pentagon briefing, crediting an array of changes that included adding more recruiters, boosting bonuses and other incentives, and changing policies on eligibility.

Spara challenged contentions that the service was lowering its standards for recruits because it has been stretched thin after three years of an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

``They are qualified medically, physically, and morally to perform the duties that they are enlisted for," Spara said.

An extra-hard push to sign up more men and women has been underway since the Army ended last year nearly 7,000 people short of its goal, the first shortfall since 1999 and its largest in 26 years.

Despite the expected success this year, next year is ``going to be just as tough," Spara said, contending that there has been no significant change in the nation's economy nor in its employment rates, factors that give people other job choices.

Separately, the Defense Department announced that the other services met or exceeded their goals in July. The Navy and Air Force were at 100 percent, signing 4,043 and 2,130, respectively. The Marine Corps was at 112 percent, signing 3,197 recruits against a goal of under 2,900. The other services had met their goals in 2005.

Though all active-duty forces are expected to meet their goals this year, the Guard and Reserve may not fare as well. Spara said it is ``too close to call" for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve .

A new law allows the Army to recruit people up to age 42, rather than 35, and to double the maximum enlistment bonus to $40,000 for active duty and $20,000 for reservists. It also raised the top reenlistment bonus to $90,000 from $60,000, with the average paid being $11,000, said Colonel Debbra Head, chief of Army reenlistment.

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