National Guard Recruitment Pitch Leaves Out Iraq, Enlistments Soaring

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Amid pictures of men and women rescuing forest-fire and flood victims and handing out bottles of water to kids, spots touting the National Guard include these tantalizing numbers: “Up to $20,000 enlistment bonus”; “100 percent tuition assistance”; “Over 200 career fields to choose from.” These may be legitimate incentives, but the ads, in newspapers and on billboards across the country, fail to mention these number: Nearly half, 41%, of units currently fighting in Iraq are National Guard units; More than 400 guard troops have died fighting overseas since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

“Whether they’re going up against hurricanes, floods, blizzards or wildfires, the National Guard is always the winning team,” reads one ad, shown in the Washington City Paper, nary a mention of fighting a war overseas, not a gun in sight.

The ad campaign seems to be working. Guard recruitment is soaring, reaching record highs this month in several states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

The National Guard Bureau reports that the Army Guard is at 99 percent of its 350,000 capacity and that 2006 reflects the best recruiting and retention year since 2003, when the force fell short of its recruiting goals by 20 percent.

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