By Kristin Roberts
WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. military met its major recruiting goals in 2007, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, but faces high hurdles for 2008 as the Army tries to grow faster without further lowering standards for new soldiers.
All four active-duty units of the U.S. military met recruiting goals, but the National Guard missed its targets.
The Army, the largest branch of the U.S. military, had to use bonuses and other incentives to lure recruits but beat by 407 its goal of 80,000 new soldiers in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30.
Still, with the Iraq war in its 5th year, recruiting is getting tougher, recruiters have said. More recruits enter military service without a high school diploma and 18 percent of Army recruits last year needed waivers for past criminal behavior, Pentagon officials said at a briefing.
Parents and other adults with influence over youth, known by recruiters as "influencers," have become less supportive of military service, said David Chu, the defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness. He would not link it to the war but said further erosion of support would hurt recruiting.
"If the country is not willing to support a strong military for the United States by supporting the choices of young people to select military service as an option then yes, we will have trouble," Chu said.
The recruiting challenges come as the Pentagon tries to expand the Army and Marine Corps — the two military branches that have borne the brunt of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Army had planned to boost its size by 65,000 over five years, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently approved a plan to speed that up by two years. Under the new plan, the Army’s size will climb to 547,000 soldiers by 2010.
Chu and other officials would not say how that acceleration would affect recruiting in 2008. The Army is due to set its 2008 goal for recruiting and retention by mid-November.