The Army National Guard is tripling retention bonuses to counter lagging recruitment and is asking for $20 billion to replace equipment destroyed in combat as it struggles under...

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WASHINGTON — The Army National Guard is tripling retention bonuses to counter lagging recruitment and is asking for $20 billion to replace equipment destroyed in combat as it struggles under the continuing burden of the Iraq war, the Guard’s top commander said yesterday.

After missing its recruitment goals over the past two months, the National Guard plans to boost bonuses for members who sign up for another six-year stint, from $5,000 to $15,000. Bonuses for first-time recruits will jump from $6,000 to $10,000 — tax-free for those abroad, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters at the Pentagon.

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The Guard also is boosting the number of recruiters from 2,700 to 4,100 and is adjusting its advertising campaigns away from so-called weekend warriors to appeal more to potential recruits who will more readily accept a deployment abroad.

The war has collided with expectations of those who thought that joining the Guard meant serving short periods close to home, near their families and civilian jobs. The changes announced yesterday underscore the strain the Guard is facing from a protracted war that has required one-fourth of its 340,000 members to serve in combat in Iraq. More than 140 Guard troops have been killed.

Blum said the extra $20 billion is needed over the next three years to repair and replace vehicles, radios and other equipment destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan as it seeks first to replenish and then to equip its forces.

“Otherwise, the Guard will be broken and not ready the next time it’s needed, either here at home or for war,” Blum said.

More than 100,000 of the Guard’s 340,000 members are deployed abroad, and many complain that they face enemy fire with equipment inferior to that of their regular Army colleagues.

Equipment problems in the National Guard put Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the defensive when he visited troops in Kuwait on Dec. 8. Tennessee National Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson said members of his unit were forced to rummage through scrap yards for material to armor their Humvees. The Army since has moved to increase production of armored vehicles.

“The Army’s equipment is old, but the Guard’s is oldest and it’s wearing out,” said Loren Thompson, defense analyst for The Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., public-policy group.

The National Guard has faced recruitment and retention problems since last summer. It fell 7,000 short of its target of 350,000 members in September and has struggled since then. The Guard’s recruiting problem compounds those of the Army Reserve, which also has failed to meet its goals for the past two months. Together, the two branches of the Army make up 40 percent of the 140,000 American troops now serving in Iraq.

The Guard’s ranks have been hit hardest by a drop in the number of former full-time soldiers who exit active duty and enlist in the Guard. About half of active-duty soldiers traditionally have gone into the Guard after being discharged; the number recently has dropped to about 35 percent, Blum said.