Reality check

In the alternate universe most right wingers inhabit, Bill Clinton “gutted our military.” Here in reality, it’s a somewhat different story:

The military is falling far behind in its effort to recruit and re-enlist soldiers for some of the most vital combat positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new government report.

The report, completed by the Government Accountability Office, shows that the Army, National Guard and Marines signed up as few as a third of the Special Forces soldiers, intelligence specialists and translators that they had aimed for over the last year.

Both the Army and the Marines, for instance, fell short of their goals for hiring roadside bomb defusers by about 20 percent in each of the last two years. The Army Reserve, meanwhile, failed to fill about a third of its more than 1,500 intelligence analysts jobs. And in the National Guard, there have been consistent shortages filling positions involving tanks, field artillery and intelligence.

The report found that, in all, the military, which is engaged in the most demanding wartime recruitment effort since the 1970’s, had failed to fully staff 41 percent of its array of combat and noncombat specialties.

Officials with the accountability office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, found that some of the critical shortfalls had been masked by the overfilling of other positions in an effort to reach overall recruiting goals. As a result, the G.A.O. report questioned whether Congress had been given an accurate picture by the Pentagon of the military’s ability to maintain the force it needs for Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The aggregate recruiting numbers are rather meaningless,” said Derek B. Stewart, the G.A.O.’s director of military personnel. “For Congress and this nation to truly understand what’s happening with the all-volunteer force and its ability to recruit and retain highly qualified people, you have to drill down into occupational specialties. And when you do, it’s very revealing.”

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Some military experts also said the gaps would be dangerous only if they continued. Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, said the problems posed by the shortfalls would be eased if the military began to reduce its deployment in Iraq.

“We are taking a gamble here that the Iraq mission can be wound down before the cumulative problems become really serious,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

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The war, several military experts said, has scared many young people away from dangerous work.

“Prospective recruits, when they think about rewards and sacrifices of military service, realize that some positions are simply a lot more dangerous than others,” said Mr. Hosek, the personnel expert at RAND.

There are nonetheless some bright spots for the military in the G.A.O. analysis. Dr. Chu said there had been growth in the Special Forces ranks, thanks in part to a new bonus of $150,000 for those who qualify. He said bonuses were also part of the reason some jobs were overfilled.

But some military experts doubt that these small triumphs will be enough to keep the ranks – and the right jobs – filled at a time of war.

“I’m not convinced that we can cap the problem,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “I think there’s a strong possibility the situation could worsen.”