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Guard recruitment exceeding goals

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Army National Guard is attracting more recruits than any other part of the military and is exceeding its recruiting goals.

Of all military personnel in Minnesota, 43 percent go to the Army National Guard, recruiter 2nd Lt. Mindy Davis said.

"That means that in Minnesota that the Army National Guard is far and away the No. 1 choice," Davis said.

Across the country, about 20 percent of military enlistees sign up for the Army Guard. Indiana and Mississippi Army Guard units attract about the same percentage as Minnesota. There are 11,556 Minnesota Army National Guard members.

In every part of the state, Minnesota Army Guard recruiters are beating their goals for a recruiting year that ends in September.

In the southwest, for instance, 181 recruits enlisted, compared to a goal of 55. In each the northwest and the northeast, recruiters exceeded their goals of 32 by 126 men and women.

And Davis said the recruits are quality.

"We are not scraping the bottom of the barrel," she said. Recruits must pass a physical and a written aptitude test to be considered.

Enlistees are coming to the Guard even though in many rural areas there are fewer young people to sign up.

"The deployments have gotten us a lot of media attention," said Davis, a former Olivia newspaper editor. "Communities have rallied around their local soldiers."

Unlike the active military branches, the Guard is community based, which provides a closer connection to residents, especially in rural areas.

"People are asking questions about who we are and what we do," Davis said.

The Minnesota Guard also is posting among the country's best retention rates. Ninety percent of recruits who enlist stay on through basic training and individual job training exercises. That is a notable accomplishment, Davis said, because while active duty recruits go straight to basic training after enlistment, Guard recruits may not complete basic training and job training until two years after enlistment. "We can lose people more easily," she said.

Willmar-based recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Stafford said like their comrades from large metropolitan areas, rural Minnesotans enlist because they want to serve the country and the Guard's education benefits are attractive. State and federal aid can result in free college education for Guard members, and they can receive additional pay and benefits.

"At this time, you have to want to be able to serve because we're all over the world right now and your chances of deploying are greater," Stafford said.

Still, increased use of Guard soldiers in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan has not hurt recruitment, Stafford said.

Stafford said she focuses her recruiting efforts on high schools and a local community college. "We need to get them then," she said of appealing to young people before some of them leave rural areas for schooling or jobs in larger cities.

Sgt. Major Tim Bebus of the Army National Guard's recruiting unit attributed the Minnesota numbers to skilled recruiters, the "high quality" of men and women willing to serve and the relationships formed among the Guard and local communities.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story. Davis and Wente work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.