Artillery: May 7, 2004

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The U.S. Army, which is taking the bulk of the casualties in Iraq, is still getting more volunteers than it needs. Standards have remained high, but the numbers needed have gone up as well. With over 6,000 casualties in Iraq during the last year, the number of new troops needed this year has been increased from 72,000 to 77,000. Most of the wounded troops return to duty, but all are out of action for days, or months, or forever in the case of the dead and crippled. This is all uncharted territory for the army, as it has been over 150 years since it was in a long war with an all-volunteer force. 

The army has about eleven percent of its total (active and reserve) strength in Iraq, and the casualties are, in a historical first, disproportionately non-combat troops. This means that those joining the army cant guarantee they will stay away from combat by enlisting for a non-combat job. If you go to Iraq or Afghanistan, you are going to be shot at. Army basic training has been made longer, and more combat oriented as a result. 

Anyone going to Iraq has a 4-5 percent chance of getting hurt. But so far that has not caused a decline in volunteers, despite media reports recruiting would suffer. There may yet be a decline in volunteers, and the army is paying close attention to recruiting efforts in order to detect any problems early, so they can try and counter them. One thing the army has noted is the increasing number of volunteers who are joining up not for the educational benefits or the money. Now a major incentive is patriotism. Many young Americans believe that Islamic radicals are a real threat to the United States and want to do something about it. But in past wars, this sort of enthusiasm diminished as the war went on. Historically, after three years, the number of volunteers declined dramatically. But in those past wars, mainly the Civil War and World War II, the casualties were high. This is not the case in Iraq, a war with historically very low casualties. No one knows what impact all this will have. There are still enough troops coming back dead or maimed to remind potential volunteers that this is a dangerous business. But since there is no precedent for a situation like this, the army can only watch, and wait.

 


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