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Army enlists twentysomethings to lure recruits

In a counteroffensive against thinning ranks, the Army hopes to

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Randolph Hughes will be making lots of treks onto campus at Goose Creek High School this fall, only this time he won't be wearing baggy blue jeans or $100 Nikes.

Army Corporal Hughes, three years removed from English and gym classes there, is hoping to convince students and teachers at his old school that the Army is a cool place.

The muscular twentysomething is one of several hundred young recruiters the Army is sending across the United States to boost a moribund recruiting effort. These new, handpicked missionaries will try to sell the Army's gospel to young adults who are increasingly rejecting the military as an option. Less than one month from the end of its fiscal year, the Army is expecting to miss a goal of 74,500 recruits by about 7,500.

Yet Army officials hope that young adults just removed from homeroom might relate better to teens skeptical of military life. So Hughes and this new corps of corporals will fan out across the US hoping to connect with teenagers and help fill up the Army's thinning ranks in months to come.

"Most recruiters haven't been to basic training in 10 to 15 years. We have a better idea what's going on," says Hughes, who arrived at the Army's North Charleston recruiting office in early August.

Hughes and young comrades will join about 5,000 mid-career noncommissioned officers who make up the bulk of Army recruiters. Typically, these veteran NCOs have spent eight to 12 years in the Army and are in their late 20s or early 30s. Many have children and families and are several layers removed from teens who increasingly see large institutions - including the military - as irrelevant, if they think of them at all.

TO CHANGE this, the Army is launching a youthful counteroffensive. Besides the young corporals, the Army is greatly increasing the number of "hometown" recruiters it sends out for short stints after basic training. For years the Army has sent successful trainees back to their hometowns after basic training to help woo peers into uniform. Now, with a growing personnel problem, it has greatly increased the number of these informal recruiters who will spend several weeks talking up the service before heading to advanced-training classes.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, recently described his service efforts as a "full-court press" to fix personnel woes.

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