Bonus program boosts recruitment for Guard

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LEWISTON – Money. That’s all it takes to make recruiters out of everyday soldiers.

A new nationwide program paying $2,000 bonuses for each new recruit a National Guard member signs and delivers is already showing dividends here in Maine.

Since January, 310 Maine Guard members have become recruiting assistants and 22 prospective soldiers have signed up.

“This is exactly what we hoped,” said Maj. Michael Backus, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard. “Interest is building.”

Maine Guard leaders hope the program will help them recruit another 200 soldiers by the end of September.

The Maine Guard currently has 1,961 soldiers. Its goal: 2,175.

“Retention is difficult,” Backus said. Some soldiers are leaving the Guard to avoid being sent to Iraq. Many others are simply retiring.

New people are signing on, though not fast enough to replace those who are leaving, Backus said.

“We’re doing well, but not great,” he said.

National leaders hope the new program can exploit soldiers’ ties with their communities, leading them to sign up new soldiers.

The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program was started in January by the Alabama-based company, Docupak.

To become recruiting assistants, soldiers must enroll in the private company’s on-line training program. The training takes about two hours.

Upon completion of the on-line course, each soldier is paid $50 and becomes an independent contractor to Docupak.

Literature distributed to the new assistants suggests recruiting at schools, churches or the workplace.

Assistants are expected to work with full-time recruiters as they shepherd prospective soldiers through the process of becoming Guard members. Recruiting assistants receive $1,000 when they sign someone up and another $1,000 when the new recruit attends basic training.

Nationwide, it’s working, said John Copeland, Docupak’s program manager.

Since January, 50,000 guard members have signed on as recruiting assistants and 5,000 prospective soldiers have signed up, Copeland said.

He called the response “fantastic.”

Across the country, 318,000 people serve in the National Guard. Its goal: 350,000.

Bonus checks for recruiting are already beginning to reach Maine’s soldiers.

On Thursday, as members of the 133rd Engineer Battalion gather for their monthly drill, a check will be awarded to a local soldier as the men and women in his company watch, Backus said.

“We hope it spreads like a positive virus,” he said.

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