WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The financial crisis could yield a bumper crop of U.S. military recruits if the recent plunge in stocks translates into job losses and an even weaker economy, defense officials said on Friday.
“We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society,” said David Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
“That is a situation where more people are willing to give us a chance. I think that’s the big difference: people are willing to listen to us.”
Chu was speaking to Pentagon reporters after announcing that all four branches of the U.S. armed forces — Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force — met their respective recruiting goals for the federal fiscal year that ended on September 30.
All told, 185,000 men and women entered active-duty military service, the highest number since 2003, according to Pentagon statistics. Another 140,000 signed up for duty in the National Guard and reserve.
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon in recent years has been under pressure to expand recruitment to alleviate strains on the military structure and increase the size of the Army and Marines.
The military has come under fire from critics who say it has met its more ambitious goals by relaxing quality standards — a charge that officials deny.
Pentagon officials said there was no sign yet that the current financial downturn would benefit recruitment for the coming year.
Chu said there was no plan to alter the cash bonuses and other financial incentives, such as help with college tuition, used to entice prospective soldiers.
Incentives totaled $750 million in fiscal year 2008.
“I would expect we’d spend something similar to that in 2009. But only time will tell,” Chu said.
Active-duty recruitment for the year was up about 2 percent from a year earlier, when 181,000 new soldiers signed up.
Since the 1990s, the strongest recruiting year for U.S. active-duty service was 2000 — before the September 11 attacks in 2001 — when about 203,000 new soldiers joined up.
Annual totals then fell before hitting a trough of 163,000 new soldiers in 2005 when Iraq was gripped by growing insurgent violence.
Editing by John O'Callaghan