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American Forces Press Service

Guard Works to Bring Back Prior-Service Soldiers

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2007 – The Army National Guard has launched a new recruiting effort that officials hope will tap into a market that has steadily decreased since the war on terror began -- prior-service soldiers.

Dubbed “Active First,” the program targets new recruits who want to serve on active-duty but then are willing to return to the Guard to finish out the remainder of their initial military service obligation.

Officials hope to recruit as many as 2,000 soldiers into the program this year, said Army Lt. Col. Gregg Bliss, branch chief for the National Guard Bureau recruit sustainment program. Of those, National Guard leaders hope to see as many as 1,400 return to the Guard, he said.

“A lot of soldiers like the opportunity to serve their nation and come back and serve their community, as well. We think we’re offering them both options in a manner that really benefits them,” Bliss said.

Most initial active-duty enlistments are followed by a remaining service obligation in the Individual Ready Reserve. For example, four-year active-duty enlistments typically are followed by four-year IRR obligations, in which soldiers are not paid and are no longer required to perform any duty, but are subject to be called back into active service.

Under the new program, soldiers return to the Guard to fulfill the remaining obligation. The Guard benefits because soldiers enter their Guard units trained, experienced and ready to fill leadership positions. Recruits can receive bonuses as high as $40,000, officials said.

Recruits who enlist under this program serve in the Army National Guard until completing their initial entry training and then serve 30, 36 or 48 months on active duty. After completing their active-duty tour, recruits can re-enlist or return to the Guard.

Under the new Active First program, recruits receive as much as $20,000 after finishing initial training. Up to $20,000 more can be paid once soldiers return to the Guard after active service, National Guard officials said.

Because bonuses are based on length of enlistment and are not job or qualification specific, recruits who don’t mind finishing their initial military service obligation in the Guard can earn big bucks. The average bonus for an active-duty enlistment in 2006 was $16,500, officials said.

In addition, recruiting officials hope the Guard-turned-active-duty soldiers will promote the National Guard during their active service and persuade more prior-service soldiers to sign-up once their initial enlistments are finished, Bliss said.

“It spreads our good news story that Guard soldiers support their community and support their nation. We think for all parties -- the Army, the National Guard and the soldier -- it’s a very positive opportunity,” he said.

Traditionally, many active-duty soldiers have transitioned into the Guard after finishing their enlistments. In the past, the Guard filled its ranks with about 60 percent prior-service military. Guard officials noted that percentage has dropped by half as deployments have dramatically increased for Guard units in the past five years, making separating active-duty soldiers wary of signing up.

In fact, the Guard now is giving the active component more than it is getting. In 2006, the Guard received 3,378 soldiers from the Army, but released 4,309 soldiers to active duty.

Bliss said the Guard always has provided soldiers to the active component, allowing them to be discharged for enlistment into active duty. But this program puts in place a process for returning those soldiers to the Guard.

“All we’re doing is formalizing the process, not only to team more effectively with the Army, but to also take care of these soldiers a little bit better, as well,” Bliss said.

Army National Guard officials reported finishing fiscal 2007 at 101 percent of its planned end-strength, nearly 3,000 troops above its planned 350,000-soldier end-strength and with almost 6,500 more troops than it started the year with.

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