WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps fell slightly short of its recruiting goal in January, the first month that has happened in nearly a decade, amid parents' concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the Marines remain on target to meet their full-year goal, officials said yesterday that the wars have made the parents of potential recruits much harder sells.
"It's a natural reaction in a time of war that a mother and father are going to have concerns, and so they are putting on the brakes," said Major Dave Griesmer, spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
The 17-year-olds in high school who are a prime target of Marine recruiters cannot sign up without parental approval. Griesmer said that increasingly, parents are making their sons and daughters wait until they are 18, but that has not stopped recruiters from putting in extra effort.
"What we're doing is working with the parents more," he said. "Whereas before it may have taken one visit and they would accept, now it may take a recruiter two, three, four" visits.
The Army is having its own challenges on the recruiting front, although General Richard Cody, the vice chief of staff, told Congress yesterday that the Army would meet its full-year goal of signing up 80,000 recruits. The last time the Army missed its full-year goal was 1999.
The Army National Guard and Army Reserve, on the other hand, have fallen behind in recent months. The Guard missed its full-year goal in 2004 for the first time since 1994.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only factors working against recruiters. They also compete against private-sector opportunities and college aspirations. And, as casualties in Iraq continue to mount, parents have been become warier, analysts say.
"You have to work harder to get them to understand that this is a not a death warrant" for the son or daughter, said Bernard Trainor, a retired three-star Marine general.
The Marines' losses in Iraq have been especially heavy in recent months. In November, when they led an offensive against insurgent holdouts in the city of Fallujah, the Marines had 80 men killed in action -- by far the most for any month since the war began in March 2003.
Over the final five months of 2004, the Marines, who contribute about one-quarter of the total US forces in Iraq, suffered 49 percent of the combat deaths, according to Pentagon statistics. In January, 30 Marines were killed when their CH-53E helicopter crashed.
That is a major change from the Marines' experience earlier in the war. For eight months, from July 2003 through February 2004, no Marines were killed in action in Iraq. Only one was killed in May and June 2003.
"We acknowledge this is a very challenging time for recruiting, yet we continue to stay on track to meet our annual goals," Griesmer said, adding that this is the first time since the all-volunteer military was established in 1973 that the nation has been in a period of prolonged war.
Recruiting typically is most difficult in the February-May period, when most high school seniors have already made up their mind about what they will do after graduation, Griesmer said.
In January, the Marines signed up 84 fewer recruits than their target of 3,270, Griesmer said. That was the first time they missed a monthly goal since July 1995, which also was the last year the Marines missed their full-year goal.
Griesmer stressed that although the number of new enlistment contracts in January was short of the goal, the Marines managed to make the January quota of recruits sent to boot camp because some had been signed up previously.
For the October-January period, the Marines sent 10,222 new recruits to boot camp, or 184 more than their target number, Griesmer said.