ARLINGTON, Va - The Army National Guard reached its congressionally authorized end strength of 350,000 Citizen-Soldiers on March 30, six months earlier than originally projected, Army Guard officials have reported.
"The strength of the Guard has been the amazing levels of retention among members of deployed units, surpassing all expectations," said Lt. Col. Diana Craun, the Army Guard's deputy chief for strength maintenance.
"Retention is highest among units that have returned from deployments, and retention is an essential element in end strength," she added.
It is the first time that the Army Guard has been at full strength since 1999, Craun said. Officials had projected that the Army Guard would reach 350,000 troops by Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.
"As long as someone doesn't turn off the machine, as long as we have the resources available to recruit like we do now, I fully expect us to be around 356,000 at the end of this year," Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army Guard, said in Congressional testimony on April 11.
The achievement follows one of the Army Guard's most successful recruiting and retention years in its history. The force experienced a net growth of 13,111 Soldiers during fiscal year 2006, Guard officials said, and it surpassed its retention goal of 34,875 by reenlisting 41,083 Soldiers. That was said to be unprecedented for the all-volunteer force since the end of the military draft 34 years ago. The Army Guard's end strength was 346,288 when the last fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
Reaching 350,000 Soldiers six months ahead of schedule was cause for celebration within the Strength Maintenance Division. Here are some of the reasons why it happened:
- The personal involvement of state governors, adjutants general, unit commanders and other leaders in the business of recruiting and retention was considered an important key to the success.
- An additional 2,400 recruiting and retention noncommissioned officers were brought into the force between August 2004 and August 2006. In all, the Army Guard has trained more than 3,500 recruiting and retention NCOs during the past two fiscal years. "They are now finding their legs and beginning to pay off in big ways," said Craun.
- Bonuses for signing up and staying in have increased significantly. The bonus for non-prior service people, for example, has doubled from $10,000 to $20,000; bonuses for prior-service people and for those who stay in have increased from $5,000 to $15,000; college assistance includes a $20,000 bonus and 100 percent tuition assistance.
- The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP) and Every Soldier A Recruiter (ESAR), which provides other Guard Soldiers bonuses of up to $2,000 for persuading people to join the Guard and complete their initial training, has enjoyed nationwide success.
- Advertising and marketing strategies which focus on new technology and mediums, such as professional auto racing and bass fishing, have been successful.
- Training and sustainment programs for new Guard Soldiers have been extremely beneficial. Only 1.98 percent of Army Guard recruits have failed to complete their basic and advanced individual training during the past 12 months, officials said. That is the lowest attrition rate among all of the military components.
The key has been adequate funding for the additional recruiting and retention personnel, the bonuses, the advertising and marketing campaigns, and the training programs, said Craun. "We will continue to grow the force as long as we have the funding," she maintained.
Other factors have also come into play.
More than 70 percent of the new readiness and retention NCOs have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere during the Global War on Terrorism and can speak firsthand about the challenges and the benefits of serving in the Guard. Officials believe that the risks are now being balanced by the rewards.
The new and innovative marketing and advertising campaigns have made life easier for recruiters to focus on the most promising prospects. Two years ago, recruiters contacted an average of 49 prospects for every one who signed a contract. Now, the contact to contract ratio is 22 to 1.