National Guard recruitment picks up

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(Host) Political and military leaders are talking about the need for more troops in Iraq and elsewhere. As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, the increasing death toll and violence in Iraq has not dampened Vermonters’ interest in serving in the National Guard.

(Keck) Staff Sergeant Eric Stage is an Army National Guard recruiter in Rutland. To meet his quota, he needs to recruit about two and a half soldiers a month – or about 30 a year. So far, he’s about three or four behind, but he says in the last month or so, things have begun to pick up.

(Stage) “Right after the war started in Iraq people were a little unsure of how things were going to go. And that’s not unusual. But here in the last 30-40 days we’ve actually been getting people calling us asking about the National Guard.”

(Keck) Images of the charred remains of US soldiers and photographs of flagged draped coffins have stirred up controversy among Americans. But surprisingly, the media reports have not caused major problems for recruiters says Reggi Saville, a spokesman with the Army National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia.

(Saville) “In general I think we’re probably doing better than expected under the circumstances you just described. I don’t think that we’re dealing with a major issue of unpopularity or of flagging patriotism just yet. There are some uncertainties.”

(Keck) Saville says they also have fewer men and women with prior military experience joining the guard. Partly, he says, because their regular military tours have been extended and partly, he admits, because what used to be considered a part time job, is now not so part time anymore. But he says the retention rate is higher than usual among current members of the guard and he’s optimistic they’ll meet their goal of 350,000 active members by September.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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