Gibson failed to challenge Army spokesman on purported recruiting successes

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

On Fox News' The Big Story, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty touted recent reports that the Army is meeting its recruiting goals. Host John Gibson suggested that the new figures counter the perception that "America doesn't want to have anything to do with the war" in Iraq, ignoring a variety of other factors that might be influencing the Army's recruiting performance.

On the July 10 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson interviewed Army spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, who touted recent reports that the Army is meeting its current monthly recruiting goals and is on track to meet its yearly recruitment target. Gibson suggested that the new figures counter the perception that "America doesn't want to have anything to do with the war" in Iraq. But Gibson ignored other reasons the Army might be meeting its recruiting goals: After the Army failed to meet its goal of 80,000 new enlistees for fiscal year 2005, it considerably lowered its recruiting standards, raised funding for recruiters, and increased enlistment incentives significantly more than Hilferty admitted.

According to a New York Times brief, last fiscal year (ending in September 2005), "the Army closed out one of its most difficult recruiting periods in decades, falling more than 6,600 recruits short. It was the first shortfall since 1999, and the largest in 26 years." Since then, the Army has introduced numerous policies in an attempt to bolster its recruiting numbers. In a July 11 article reporting that the Army is currently meeting its recruitment goals, USA Today quoted David Segal, military sociologist at the University of Maryland, who said that the Army has increased its numbers by also accepting more recruits who have lower scores on qualification tests. USA Today reported that in 2005, the Army "began accepting up to 4% of those who score in the bottom third on the Armed Forces Qualification Test," while "[p]reviously, it had a limit of 2% from that category." Also, according to a November 2005 Government Accountability Office report, the Defense Department projected that its annual recruiting budget will rise by nearly $90 million from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2006, or from $639.5 million to $726.2 million. The Army has also increased its recruiting staff. As a Congressional Budget Office report noted, "[t]he Army increased its recruiting force from 5,100 at the beginning of 2005 to 6,500 by year's end."

While Gibson did ask if the Army is "offering special incentives" and mentioned that the Army had raised its age limit for enlistment (from 35 to 42), Hilferty downplayed the new policies, saying that the Army offers "some bonuses, enlistment bonuses, but really, you know, an American doesn't join the Army because he'll get $2,000. He joins the Army for what he wants to do for his country. I think the 2, 3, 4.000 dollars that people get -- that does help them say that we care about them." Hilferty also minimized the significance of the age-limit increase by claiming that the rule was changed to allow people such as "marathoners" and businesspeople with master's degrees to join the Army.

Gibson did not challenge Hilferty's statement downplaying signing bonuses for recruits. But USA Today noted that "[s]ome new soldiers are eligible for as much as $40,000 in enlistment bonuses." Nor did Gibson mention, as the Times reported last year, that the Army "offered a new 15-month enlistment, instead of the previous minimum two-year term" to help meet recruiting goals.

On July 7, the Times also reported that, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report, the U.S. military has for the first time since 1996 allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" into the armed forces as a result of recruiting shortages stemming from the Iraq war. The Times noted that the SPLC report "estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines." According to the report, a Defense Department investigator said: "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," adding, "[T]hat's a problem."

From the July 10 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: A recruiting record for our armed forces. The Pentagon says all four branches of the military exceeded active-duty recruiting goals for the 13th straight month. Joining us now, Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. So Colonel, you know, there's a lot of talk about America doesn't -- isn't supporting the war. America doesn't want to have anything to do with the war. In the light of that, how can you explain exceeding recruiting goals?

HILFERTY: I think, John, that -- I mean, it says a lot about the American youth. So far, this fiscal year, 56,000 -- sorry, 51,612 Americans have joined the Army. That's more people than fit into Yankee Stadium. And like you said, we've met our goals for 13 months in a row. That says a lot about Americans.

GIBSON: What -- what -- are you offering special incentives? Money, vacations to the Caribbean, or something?

HILFERTY: We offer vacations to the Middle East, but primarily, we offer people the chance to serve their country. We offer some bonuses, enlistment bonuses, but really, you know, an American doesn't join the Army because he'll get $2,000. He joins the Army for what he wants to do for his country. I think the 2, 3, 4,000 dollars that people get -- that does help them say that we care about them.

GIBSON: Is this -- is this part of this phenomenon that we've seen that re-enlistment rates run at record-high levels?

HILFERTY: That's another good point, John. So far, for the past several years, two out of three soldiers eligible to re-enlist do re-enlist. Two out of three soldiers who are in the Army, who were deployed, who know what we're doing in a protracted war continue to re-enlist. I mean, just -- I think people, once they join the team, they want to stay on the team.

GIBSON: Colonel, the other issue, I think you have raised the age at which you will take people. What's it up to now?

HILFERTY: The age has been raised recently from 35 to 42. But I'll tell you what that was really about. That's not going to really help us meet our recruiting mission. We have several hundred we expect who will join in that age. That's giving people who want to serve the opportunity to serve. I had a couple people who've been emailing me over the past year because they see my name in print. They said, "I want to join the Army, but I'm 40 years old, I have a master's degree, I run my own business." This one guy was a marathoner, but our rules said he couldn't join, our bureaucratic rules. So we changed them to let those people, who meet all the other standards, give them the opportunity to do something meaningful in their lives.

GIBSON: Colonel, the -- I take it that those people who are joining now either know they are going to be sent to Iraq, or there's a good chance of it, or want to be sent to Iraq. What are the chances that anybody recruited right now is going to find himself somewhere in Iraq?

HILFERTY: You know, I'd hate to say that you're not going to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. I have two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq during Desert Storm. But presently, only about 50 percent of the Army has deployed. So, over half of the Army has joined since 9-11. So, over half of the Army knew exactly what they were getting into, but only 50 percent, again, have actually deployed.

GIBSON: So, you must be pretty proud of this rate.

HILFERTY: We're pretty happy. I mean, we're optimistic. July looks really good. July is a 10,000-person month. But we think we are going to make July, and we're pretty optimistic for the year. And I've got to give the credit to the recruiters, who are out there doing that hard work every day.

GIBSON: All right, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, Army spokesman. Colonel, thanks very much.

HILFERTY: Thanks, John.

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