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Strong civilian job market hurts military Army, Air Force are short a few recruits

WASHINGTON -- Despite bonuses and other incentives, the Army and Air Force are finishing their recruiting years with a deficit of new heads to shear.

All the armed services are expecting another difficult year trying to lure bright kids away from a strong civilian job market.

The Army has about 6,300 fewer recruits than its stated goal of 74,500. The Air Force expects to finish 1,700 short of its goal of 33,800.

''The woes that we faced in fiscal year 1999 -- we anticipate those same woes (in) fiscal year 2000,'' says Col. Darrel Greer, vice commander of Air Force recruiting.

The Navy, after a dismal showing in 1998, has made its goal of 53,200 for the year ending Sept. 30. The Marines, who traditionally recruit well, filled their ranks by sending more than 39,500 to boot camp.

''It's tough competition,'' says Cmdr. Steve Lowry, spokesman for the Navy's recruiting command. ''We're all trying for those bright, on-the-ball young people.''

No one expects a respite in the new fiscal year, which begins Friday. Both the Army and Navy have been forced to ease their rules and allow induction of more men and women without high school diplomas.

Maj. General Evan Gaddis, chief of recruiting for the Army, says there's no single solution. But he's confident of a turnaround.

''We're going to make next year's mission,'' he says. ''We've got a full Army effort behind us now.'' That means troops not normally involved in recruiting are being brought into the effort.

In the past, recruiting has been assigned to officers and seasoned sergeants. Now, the Army is sending privates fresh from boot camp back to their hometowns to tout time in the service. In addition, 200 young corporals have been assigned to recruiting stations.

''We're reconnecting with the youth,'' Gaddis says.

Lowry says the Navy's Web site is an increasingly important recruiting tool, netting about 3,500 new sailors as of Aug. 31. Compared to visiting a recruiting station, the Internet is a comfortable way for many teens to explore military options and contact a recruiter, he says.

Greer says the Air Force will boost advertising and add hundreds of new recruiters.

The services again will offer bonuses and other enticements. Gaddis says Army recruiters have new flexibility to package college benefits with bonuses that can reach $20,000. Recruits also have the chance to choose a country or unit assignment.

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