Sunday, October 31, 2004

National Guard tries new ways to entice recruits

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON - Pink T-shirts. Free hunting and fishing licenses. More signing bonuses. And a greater appeal to patriotic duty.

The Army National Guard, which has fallen short of recruiting goals during the prolonged fighting in Iraq, is trying new marketing beyond the traditional enticement of college tuition aid.

"There are fewer people who are voluntarily expressing an interest - calling or returning postcards," said Lt. Col. Dan Kenkel, spokesman for the Guard in Nebraska.

Nationally, the Army Guard reached 88 percent of its goal of 56,000 recruits by the end of September, signing up 49,210.

"Recruiting is tougher than it's been in awhile," said James Sims, spokesman for the Ohio Guard, which is about 500 off its target of 2,100 recruits.

Guard officials around the country blame concerns about the war, Pentagon orders that keep some soldiers from leaving active duty and going into the Guard, and turnover among recruiters when some are sent overseas.

Of the 100,000 Army Guard members sent to Iraq, about 110 have died.

The pink T-shirt bearing the words "Soldier Girl" was designed by Sgt. Stacey Weston, a recruiter in Indiana, to get the attention of potential recruits. She said the Guard quickly ran out of the first order of 800 shirts.

"A lot of young ladies are under the impression they can't be feminine if they join the military," Weston said.

The Nebraska Guard was 87 short of its goal of 519 recruits. It is plastering several Dodge Stratuses with its decals and logos in hopes of catching the eye of potential recruits.

Ohio has used Hummers - with oversized tires, televisions and booming sound systems - for the past few years to draw a crowd.

The Kansas Army Guard has upped from 19 to 30 the job-skill categories - such as driving heavy equipment - in which it will pay signing bonuses that range from $3,000 to $8,000.

And thanks to the Legislature, its members will be eligible for free fishing and hunting licenses.

Recruiter Lt. Col. Jane Harris said there is no way to tell how many recruits have been influenced by the new marketing.

Some potential recruits were still drawn mainly to the promise of college aid.

The benefit ranges from full tuition reimbursement to aid of up to $4,500 a year to loan repayments.

The Air Guard was slightly more successful in recruiting, signing up 93 percent of its goal of 8,842.

Scott Woodham, spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said the Air Guard is smaller and may have benefited from not having to recruit as many new members. It deploys overseas for just three months at a time.

Fewer signing up

The numbers: Nationally, the Army Guard reached 88 percent of its goal of 56,000 recruits this year, signing up 49,210. Ohio was about 500 off its target of 2,100 recruits; Iowa down about 130.

The reasons: Concerns about the war in Iraq and possible long overseas deployment; Pentagon orders that keep some soldiers from leaving active duty and going into the Guard; and turnover among recruiters.

The new incentives: More signing bonuses. Free hunting and fishing licenses. And a greater appeal to patriotic duty. Pink T-shirts.

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