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Answering a call to arms

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Fort Knox’s Recruiting Command says meeting call for 22,000 new troops won’t be a problem

By John Friedlein

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

FORT KNOX — The U.S. Army Recruiting Command, which is headquartered here, anticipates no problems meeting a temporary bump in troop numbers that Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday.

Also, the call for 22,000 more soldiers shouldn’t have a major impact on Fort Knox, which has basic training, command spokesman Douglas Smith said. The increase will be spread over various training sites.

For the rest of this federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the Army needs to add 5,000 more troops than planned — for a 2009 total of at least 70,000. This figure, though, is 10,000 fewer than it was over the past few years.

The Army wants the extra soldiers to meet the needs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and other missions around the world.

“This is a temporary challenge that will peak in the coming year and abate over the course of the next three years,” Gates told a Pentagon press conference.

This is the second time since 2007 that the military has determined it doesn’t have a large enough force. Gates had already increased the size of the Army and U.S. Marine Corps shortly after taking the Pentagon job.

Gates noted that while progress in Iraq will lead to a reduction in the number of troops there, more troops are needed in Afghanistan because of worsening violence in that conflict. He said the persistent pace of operations in the two wars over several years has meant a steady increase in the number of troops who are wounded, stressed or otherwise unable to deploy with their units.

Also causing a shortage is the decision earlier this year to stop the unpopular practice of keeping troops beyond their enlistment dates.

The Army currently has a total troop strength of 547,000, including 65,000 soldiers who were added in recent years.

To reach its new goal, it won’t rely entirely on recruiting. For instance, to meet this fiscal year’s increase, those who have already signed on and expected to be shipped to basic training before October may be asked to do so early.

The Army still is working out the details of how the announcement will affect next year’s recruiting goals, Smith said.

Before the call for 22,000 more troops, Recruit Command leader Maj. Gen. Don Campbell said the 2010 figure would be similar to this year’s.

Now, Smith said it will be slightly larger.

So far this year, the Army is ahead by 2,000 enlistees for active duty and up a little with reservists. “Recruiting has been going well,” Smith said.

On one hand, recruiters are dealing with wars that may make some think twice about joining; on the other, the recession has made the military more attractive to job seekers.

The Army now employs about 9,000 recruiters. Smith said he doesn’t think the troop boost will mean more will be needed.

John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746. The Associated Press contributed to this report.