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To build a bigger force, Army tries new tack

Retention of soldiers – via bonuses and special training – to be key as the service strives to expand as ordered.

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The US Army is under orders to grow bigger over the next five years, but so far its focus is less on recruiting brand-new soldiers and more on trying to keep the ones it already has.

So far, it's a different strategy – some say a riskier one – than what's being used by the Marine Corps. Both services are acting in response to Secretary Robert Gates's announcement in January that he wanted to expand the two forces by 2012 to prevent them from becoming overstretched.

For the Army, that would mean bringing as many as 9,000 additional recruits into the fold each year, on top of the 80,000-soldier annual goal it already has for its active component. But rather than increase its recruiting goal for fiscal 2008, as the Marine Corps is doing, the Army so far is opting to offer thousands of dollars in bonuses, college education, and an array of other incentives to men and women already in uniform to see if it can become bigger by enticing more people to stay.

The Corps is trying to grow by about 27,000 marines through a combination of recruiting and retention. As a result, its recruiting mission for fiscal 2008 increased by about 2,300 over last year.

Same goal as 2007

There is no indication that the Army's recruiting mission will increase anytime soon, says Lt. Col. Robert Tallman, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

"The Army will use a combination of recruiting as we normally do and a heavier focus on retention" to achieve the ultimate goal. Army officials expect to reach an "end strength" of 547,000 by 2010. Currently, the force is at 520,000.

The Army may well increase its goal later in the year to as high as 86,000, says one senior Pentagon official. But for now, the service's apparent reluctance to increase its annual recruiting goal beyond 80,000 comes in part because Army officials don't want to raise the number only to fall short, says the official.

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