Military recruitment surges as jobs disappear

As the U.S. economy continues to shed jobs, recruits swarm to the military, despite wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Fresh recruits keep pouring into the U.S. military, as concerns about serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are eclipsed by the terrible civilian job market.

The Department of Defense said Tuesday that all branches of the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, met or exceeded their active duty recruiting goals for January, continuing a trend that began with a decline in the U.S. job market.

This is despite more than 4,800 American soldiers, Marines and sailors dying in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It wasn't always like this. In the past, when the economy was strong, the military struggled to fill its ranks. But since fiscal year 2006, the DOD has consistently met or exceeded its recruitment goals. This occurred even as the Navy, Marines and Air Force raised the bar on their goals.

The military acknowledged that weakness in the U.S. economy, which lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008 and another 598,000 in January, has made the armed services more appealing to potential recruits.

The military isn't necessarily the only hope for the jobless. President Obama intends to create or save up to four million jobs through his stimulus package of more than $800 billion. And some areas - namely health care and education - are currently hiring.

But the dismal civilian job market is not expected to improve any time soon. The Conference Board estimates that the economy could lose two million jobs this year. The military is confident that it will continue to meet its recruitment goals.

"Recruiting is always a challenge, but a tighter job market provides more opportunities to make our case to young men and women," wrote DOD spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, in an email to CNNMoney.com. "The military offers competitive salaries, hefty compensation packages, extraordinary education benefits and valuable job skills and leadership training."

Staff Sgt. Jimmy Spence, a 2006 veteran of the Iraq war and a career planner for the Marines, said, "You're not going to get these kind of benefits out there in the civilian world, with the job security that you're guaranteed."

Spence, who is married with a young daughter, said the health benefits are among the biggest draws for service members with children. He also said that re-enlistment bonuses, as large as $38,500 for a first-term sergeant, have helped to bolster the ranks.

At a Manhattan recruiting center on Monday, a 23-year-old construction worker said he was considering a military career to provide health benefits for his two children.

The construction worker, who would not provide his name, also said he was nervous about the layoffs occurring in his industry. In the military, he intends to study architecture and engineering.

When asked about the possibility of serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, he replied, "I'm not worried about that. I'm just worried about my kids." To top of page

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