Research support for this story was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.
April 10 was a telling day for military recruitment in Washington, even if the words “military recruitment” were barely uttered.
The end of two days of intense Congressional testimony from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, a speech from George Bush and testimony from Defense Secretary Robert Gates in front of the Senate Committee on Armed Services triangulated the point we subconsciously knew all along. The troops aren’t coming home.
They informed us that troop levels in Iraq won’t drop to 100,000 by the end of the year, that Petraeus will have “all the time he needs” to contemplate additional withdrawals and that there would be a reduction in tour time from fifteen to twelve months for those deployed in the future–not an offer for the troops currently engaged, many of whom are in Iraq or Afghanistan for their second, third or fourth tour.
Calculating this imbalanced equation of maintaining troop levels while reducing tour duration should have led to the question, Where will the troops come from? Instead, this three-front assault kept media and Congress primarily focused on the ethics of withdrawing from Iraq–an argument the Bush Administration is much more comfortable having than one on the human costs of invasion and occupation.
In the midst of that April 10 speech, Bush boasted that “recruiting and retention have remained strong during the surge.” Of course he neglected to mention how the Army, because of low numbers of new recruits, was forced to refashion its enlistment criteria over the course of the last few years, allowing them to say at this moment that they were meeting their 2008 recruiting goals of 80,000 in the active Army and 26,500 for the Army Reserve.
Achieving that goal required a reduction in the annual recruitment goal, raising the maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42, permitting those who are overweight or have physical injuries, granting entry to those with a criminal record and lowering the aptitude standards. A study by the National Priorities Project released in January determined that just over 70 percent of new recruits joining the active-duty Army in 2007 had a high school diploma, falling nearly twenty points below the Army’s goal of 90 percent. The Army has long known that high school graduation is an important factor, not for performance but for retention.
All these important stories about recruitment shortcomings and concessions had a short shelf life (if they were covered at all) when mainstream media chose to cover sensationalist stories such as the March 6 Times Square bombing and a rash of other acts of violence and vandalism against recruitment centers. But just weeks before the Times Square bombing, an important recruitment story was left severely underreported: the 2009 Department of Defense (DoD) budget proposal put a $20.5 billion line in the budget for recruiting, nearly doubling it from 2008. In 2003, the budget was $4 billion.