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As war stretches on, recruiters scramble

Falling short of goals, the Army has beefed up bonuses and raised the maximum age of Guard and Reserve recruits to 39.

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It was no surprise when Bruce Ziegler enlisted in the National Guard. After six years in the Army and two tours abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sergeant Ziegler had come to a conclusion about his life: Whatever he did, he wanted to serve his country.

Yet when it came time to decide what to do with this strait-laced, close-cropped soldier from rural Kansas, the National Guard decided that he could serve America best not in the streets of Baghdad or the caves of the Hindu Kush, but at a small desk here in the pallid light of Laurel Armory.

Ziegler is a recruiter, and as the Army Guard and Reserve - as well as the Army itself - begin consistently missing their recruitment goals, his job has emerged as one of the most pressing concerns of the war on terror.

Last month, the Army missed its monthly recruiting target for the first time since 2000. The Army National Guard and Reserve haven't reached their monthly targets since October. The Pentagon has responded by fattening bonuses for soldiers, training more recruiters like Ziegler, and raising the top age for Guard and Reserve recruits from 34 to 39.

Their success is crucial to the course of the Iraq war. In the first sustained test of the all-volunteer military created by the abolition of the draft in 1973, the Army has had to rely heavily on citizen soldiers, who make up 45 percent of US forces in Iraq. Now, that supply chain is showing signs of stress, and some experts say the current data suggest that the task of maintaining a full force in the Middle East will only get harder. "The longer this war goes on, the more difficult it's going to be to get more recruits," says Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Five months into its recruiting year, the Army Reserve is 10 percent behind its goal and the National Guard is 24 percent off.

To be sure, recruiting in wartime has always been difficult, hence the need for a draft in the past. Moreover, as the economy improves, more potential recruits are finding financial security without turning to military service to pay for bills or college.

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