April 16, 2004


Despite a rising tide of combat deaths and the prospect of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come, Americans continue to volunteer for duty and are re-enlisting at record rates.

The services believe a combination of patriotism and the economy is driving people to the military and keeping them there.

"The war is not only not having a negative effect, but it is helping to reinforce the number of people who want to join," said Cmdr. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Navy's Bureau of Personnel.

Even the Army National Guard, which has had 150,000 citizen soldiers mobilized for up to a year, has seen retention rates "going through the roof," said Guard spokesman Maj. Robert Howell.

Nonetheless, I suspect that it's a good time to be looking at enlarging the military and adjusting the force structure.

UPDATE: A reader -- an Ordnance Corps Major in Afghanistan -- emails:

I can offer a small bit of evidence that the story you cited/linked to is correct. The 25th Infantry Division, which recently took commander here in Afghanistan, brought 50% more retention personnel than the outgoing 10th Mountain Division.

Nice that people feel that way -- but I do think that we should be working to ease the strain of extended deployments, etc., as much as possible. We should appreciate people's patriotism and dedication, but we shouldn't take it for granted.

UPDATE: Hmm. This article says that retention is down. Who's right? Beats me. The article quoted above seems to give more specifics, for whatever that's worth.

In a way, it doesn't matter -- at least, as I say above, we should be doing more to make service tolerable for those serving, and attractive to potential recruits.

And maybe we need a big push in programs like JROTC, etc. Perhaps high schools should be required to offer JROTC as a condition of receiving federal funding.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's another story saying that re-enlistment rates, and initial recruitment rates, are doing quite well. But obviously longer deployments may impact that next time around. Bonuses seem to make a difference.

As with other war-related topics, we shouldn't let good news make us complacent, and I hope that this issue is getting the attention it deserves.