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Military Recruiting Costs Soar

WASHINGTON -- Recruiting costs per enlistee hit an all-time high in 1999 even as two of the military's four branches failed to reach recruiting goals, figures released by the armed forces show. In the past five years, the cost per recruit has risen by as much as 74% in the case of the Air Force and in double-digits in the other services. The military has had to spend more to persuade young people to put off college and forgo enticing civilian jobs. Although few expect spiraling recruiting costs to spark calls to bring back the draft, the Pentagon's continuing struggle to fill the ranks could raise questions about the long-term viability of the all-volunteer military. ''The high cost of recruitment is the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to notice,'' says Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. ''It's costing an arm and a leg.'' The Pentagon spent $1.8 billion on recruiting this year, less than 1% of its total budget.

But at a time when resources are already stretched thin, every dollar spent on recruits before they take the military oath is a dollar that can't be spent on training or housing once they're in:

  • The Army spent more than $11,000 for every new soldier this year, more than any other service ever. It still fell short of its goal by 6,300 soldiers. From 1994 to 1998, the cost per new soldier rose 38%.
  • The Air Force raised recruit spending 28% this year, pushing the per-airman cost to $5,403. That doesn't include bonuses paid upon completing training, which boosts the figure to $6,089 -- up 74% from 1995. Still, the Air Force missed its goal by 1,700 airmen, its first shortfall in 20 years.
  • After ending last year 7,000 sailors short, the Navy spent $8,835 per recruit in 1999, most of it for new recruiters, advertising and signing bonuses. The result: The Navy made its goal but spent 38% more than it did in 1995.
  • The Marine Corps spent the least per recruit, $6,006. ''It is a very hard market,'' says Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for personnel policy. ''I don't expect it will get easier.''

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