USA Today reports that the National Guard has turned around a recruiting slump, meeting its target for new sign-ups for the first time since 2003. As of May, the Guard had 351,400 troops -- the highest total since November 2001, when a surge of post-/11 patriotism swelled the ranks.
With 70% of the public disapproving of Bush's handling of Iraq -- and other branches like the Army "near the breaking point," according to the Military Times -- how did the Guard do it? One of the biggest reasons is that they're spending lots of money -- and it hasn't come cheap:
* The Guard has started a "buddy program" which pays current members $2,000 for every recruit they sign up and enters boot camp (this has brought in 35,000 enlistments since December 2005, says the Guard).
* They've boosted enlistment bonuses from a high of $6,000 in 2004 to $20,000 today
* They've contracted out the Guard Recruiter Assistant Program to an Alabama-based company, DocuPak, who receives $2,320 for each new sign-up.
The Guard also credits their success to outreach at high schools and NASCAR events -- and targeting vulnerable populations who are down on their luck:
One of the most productive part-time recruiters in Virginia is Sgt. Keith Sydnor, a Guard member whose civilian job is to bring bail skippers back to justice. Since February 2006, Sydnor has earned $30,000 in extra commissions for referrals to recruiters.
"Based on the time period of the day, if they should be in school or should be at work and I see them out on the street or at a bus stop, I'll stop and talk to them," Sydnor said. "Nine times out of 10 they're unemployed or looking for work."
Sometimes he pulls aside people in trouble with the law who he's had to track down and bring to court, provided they're found not guilty or are convicted of misdemeanors.
"When they get a little confused in life and need some discipline or to go in a different direction, that's when it comes in," he said.
The USA Today story quotes only one skeptic of the Guard's recruitment tactics, a peace activist who notes the dangers of targeting vulnerable youth:
Jodie Evans, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, said the idea of recruiting at-risk children to go to war is "really frightening."
"I've worked with at-risk kids," Evans said. "Every single one of the at-risk kids in my community, their fathers were in Vietnam. It takes years to get them balanced."