November 21, 2009 2:00 am
After losing his job at a Wisconsin plastics factory, Bill Caudle scoured newspapers and the web for "help wanted" advertisements, even applying for positions that paid a fraction of his previous salary, writes Kevin Sieff in Washington .
But in the midst of the country's worst recession in decades, Mr Caudle received a string of rejection letters.
His situation was urgent. Mr Caudle's wife Michelle had been diagnosed with cancer weeks earlier and his family was about to lose its health insurance.
So Mr Caudle applied for the one job he knew would provide a reliable source of income and benefits. At 39, he enlisted in the US army.
Aided by the economic downturn, this year marked the Pentagon's best recruiting effort since 1973, when the US military became an all-volunteer force. It is the first time in those 36 years that the military has met all of its annual recruiting goals.
Historically, the military has had its most successful recruiting efforts in economic downturns, experts say. But there has never been such a pronounced spike as this year's, with droves enlisting in spite of the near-certainty of being sent to war. In the 12 months to June, the military added 168,900 active-duty troops.
Before the spike in 2009, recruitment lagged behind for several years, leading the Pentagon to lower the barriers to enlistment, including age, physical ability and criminal background.
Critics charge that the lowering of those standards has yielded the recruiting boom.
Pentagon officials say that substantial bonuses helped them attract qualified candidates, pointing to the average bonus of $14,000 given to 40 per cent of recruits, up from $12,000 in 2008.
That bonus was a boon for the family when Mr Caudle enlisted in August. But they are still on edge, waiting to hear about his first assignment after he finishes basic training in Kentucky.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.