By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 11, 2008) -- During a press conference Thursday at the Pentagon, the Army's senior leader said the National Guard's "Active First" program has contributed to the Army staying on-target to reach recruitment goals.
"Last month we announced our plans to accelerate end-strength growth to achieve our 74,000 increase by 2010," said Secretary of the Army Pete Geren. "We're on track to meet that goal. And if trends continue, we will exceed it. Active First deserves growing credit for helping us meet that goal."
More than 500 recruits have enlisted under Active First since the pilot initiative began Oct. 1. Under the program, young men and women are recruited by the National Guard to complete a term of service in both the Active and National Guard components of the Army. Those recruits are paid bonuses based on the duration of the active service commitment they choose to accept.
Secretary Geren has set a goal of 1,600 enlistments for the program in Fiscal 2008. Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, said he believes the service will have no trouble meeting that goal because of the trust the American public has in the National Guard and because of the care the Army provides to its Soldiers.
"The Secretary has tasked us with a goal of 1,600 and that is not going to be hard," he said. "It's about trust, it's about reaching out with that big force that we have got out there with recruiters and recruiting the home team. The big thing about the National Guard, the big thing about the Army, is we want to take youngsters and put them up on that first step and help them all the way through. That's where you get the private, personal mentorship and the care to make sure that you graduate and come out the other end."
Four Soldiers who enlisted under the Active First program attended the press conference. Those Soldiers include Pvt. Michael Raleigh Fehl, of Porter, Minn.; Pvt. Damien L. Jones, of Jennings, Mo.; Pfc. Matt Millen, of Overland Park, Kan.; and Pvt. Jonathan Wight, of Lavonia, Ga. Secretary Geren said those Soldiers represent both the relationship between the National Guard and the Army; and what the National Guard is capable of doing with its strong community ties.
"These recruits exemplify the best of Active First -- they are the people behind the numbers," he said. "Active First is a great partnership; it shows we are one Army -- the National Guard and Active components working together. The National Guard is helping recruit people to help grow the all-volunteer force. It has its own contacts in the community all over America, and it is these contacts, and the trust the communities of America have in the National Guard, that has enabled this program to get off the ground with such great strength. This partnership is bearing great fruit for our total Army."
A career path for a Soldier under the Active First program might begin with six months in a National Guard unit in his or her hometown. The Soldier would then enter basic training followed by 30, 36, or 48 months of active duty. At the completion of active-duty service, Soldiers return to their National Guard unit and serve one weekend per month and two weeks a year until they complete a total of eight years of military service. Depending on their choice of active-duty service time, a Soldier could receive bonuses totaling as much as $60,000.
In November, Pvt. Wight enlisted under the Active First program. He chose a 36-month tour in the active Army and will train as a military policeman. He said one of the reasons he chose to enlist is the opportunity it affords him to serve his country. But he also said the Army was simply the best deal of the options he explored.
"After I checked out the real world, the Army was number one on my list," he said. "There are so many things the Army is doing as far as bonuses, training and equipment. I mean, it's a hundred billion things."
Another benefit Wight focused on while making his decision to enlist was the support both the Army and the National Guard would provide to his growing family. He and his wife Jessica raise their daughter together and have another child on the way.
"The Army is going to take care of me and them as well," he said. "It means a better lifestyle for our family."
Wight also said he knows his service in the Army will provide benefits for him even after he takes off the uniform for the last time.
"I chose the military police, and they will give me the best training possible," he said. "After that, if I decide to get out, I can put my resume in anywhere and go from there. That was one of the number one things. Plus, you just can't find everything the Army offers anywhere else -- I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Pvt. Fehl ships out for Army basic training Jan. 30. He chose the 30-month option for active service and will train to work in field artillery. While impressed with the opportunities the Army offered him, he said family history had a lot to do with his decision to enlist.
"My grandpa served in World War II," he said. "Before that, his dad was in. And my dad was in too. We just have a lot of history in the Army. I just kind of want to make my family proud and to follow in the footsteps of everybody else."
Another opportunity influencing Fehl's decision to enlist was the chance to leave his hometown of Porter, Minn., with a population of only 300 and a scarcity of good job opportunities.
"I mean, I kind of wanted the experience -- to go out, to get out of a smaller town like Porter -- it's 300 people, you know? There's not too many jobs a guy can get around there," he said. "I wanted to join the military, and I got out of my town. I got the best of both worlds."
Sgt. Jared Golde,.Fehl's recruiter, said stories like Fehl's are common.
"When you are in a small town, like up in Porter, there really are no active-duty installations around," he said. "So the National Guard is kind of the primary military that is visible. Then you get families like Mike's. They have multiple generations of active service and they want their son to be part of that family history."
The Active First program, Sgt. Golde said, has helped him as a recruiter because it allows him to offer something other services cannot.
"Some of the active-duty service commitment the program offers -- 30 or 36 months, for instance -- are less than what the active duty side can offer," he said. "They can serve for only two and half years and then get to come back home -- that's usually not an option for most branches. And not only do they get exceptional training as a result of their service, but they also receive a large bonus."
The Active First program is available to service-eligible men and women in all 54 states and territories. All Soldiers who enlisted under the Active First program may choose, at the end of their active-duty service commitment, to re-enlist in the active component or to continue service in the National Guard. The Army estimates about 30 percent of Soldiers enlisted under the program will choose to remain on active duty. Soldiers enlisting in the program may choose from more than 50 different military occupational specialties, ranging from infantrymen to administrative positions.
In January 2007, President George W. Bush approved Army plans to increase its end strength by more than 74,000 Soldiers. The Army initially planned to spread that increase out over five years and to meet it's goal by 2012. In October, the Army announced it had changed the target date to 2010. The Army plans to meet that goal with increased retention efforts and recruitment programs such as Active First.