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U.S. Army beats recruiting, retention goals

The U.S. Army surpassed key recruiting and retention goals for 2006, ending the fiscal year with more soldiers under arms than at any time in more than a decade, official figures released Monday show.

The performance came despite strains on the force and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, which last year resulted in the army coming up eight percent short of the 80,000 troops needed to replenish its ranks.

The army attributed the turnaround to a variety of factors, but acknowledged that it is taking in more recruits who scored lower on aptitude tests and more who normally would have been disqualified for medical or moral reasons than last year.

It said 17 percent of new recruits had medical or moral blemishes on their records that required waivers, the army said.

Moral character waivers accounted for 55 percent of the total, and of those 86 percent had committed misdemeanors, the army said.

“For those who have had minor law enforcement issues, the waiver process recognizes that people make mistakes but they can overcome their past behavior and have the potential for being productive and law-abiding citizens,” the army statement said.

“We don’t waive patterns of misconduct, and we don’t waive trafficking or distributing drugs or sexually violence crimes,” it said.

The army said it recruited 80,635 soldiers to its active ranks in fiscal 2006 — 7,262 more than the previous year.

The army’s reserve and national guard components also showed dramatic improvement over the previous year, although they fell short of their recruitment goals by 0.5 percent and 1.4 percent respectively.

The army said it met its retention goals for the ninth year in a row, surpassing its annual mission of 64,200 by five percent.

The reserve and national guard also exceeded their retention goals by substantial numbers.

“Overall, army end strength is up 25,000,” the army said in a statement.

The size of the active army is about 505,000, a 12,000 soldier gain from the previous year and the highest since 1995, it said.

After failing to meet its recruitment goals in 2005, the army increased enlistment bonuses, fielded a larger recruiter force, and changed in its advertising strategies.

The army also increased the maximum enlistment age twice during the year, first from 35 to 40 and then from 40 to 42.

The army also said a larger percentage of its recruits scored lower in army aptitude tests.

Separately, the army announced it is launching a new US$200 million advertising campaign in November dubbed “Army Strong,” which will replace “Army of One” as the service’s slogan.

The campaign will initially involve radio, television and online spots. Print ads will begin running in January.

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