Colorado Springs got a new top Army recruiter this month, and he's got a big job ahead.
The recruiting company of 48 soldiers based in an office building near Interstate 25 and Rockrimmon Boulevard must bring in about 500 recruits this year even as the Army tightens standards amid downsizing.
"You've established this company as the spearhead of the battalion," Capt. Jason Robinson told his new unit during a ceremony.
Most recruiters are drawn from the elite of the Army's enlisted ranks and are sent into communities to track down eligible recruits between ages 18 and 35. Most of their job is focused on high schools, which yield the majority of new privates for the service.
A few years ago, the Army suffered from recruiting shortfalls as the economy boomed and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on.
The Army boosted its ranks with big bonuses and easy-to-get waivers that allowed new soldiers into the ranks who didn't meet academic or disciplinary standards.
Those days are gone, and issues including minor criminal convictions or the lack of a high school diploma can lead to would-be troops being turned away.
"The ideal soldier has changed some," said 1st Sgt. Johnathan Phelps, the recruiting company's top sergeant.
To meet the higher standards, recruiters are working harder than ever, said Maj. Herbert Flather, the company's outgoing boss.
"There are hours and hours of smiling and dialing," he said. "Thousands and thousands of phone calls."
The Colorado Springs company does have a big pool to fish for recruits. The company covers a region that runs from Monument Hill to the New Mexico line and east to the Kansas border. That's a 259,000-square-mile area that's home to more than 700,000 potential recruits.
Lt. Col. William Rose, who commands recruiters in Colorado, said his team is dedicated to finding the best from that large area.
"What they are doing right now is going out and finding their replacements," he said. "They are qualified to find that diamond in the rough."
The Colorado Springs recruiters have delivered 1,000 new soldiers to the Army in the past two years.
Flather said that with the Army's higher standards, only about 20 percent of the youthful population targeted by recruiters can meet entry requirements.
"It's harder to find those kids who want to serve and are qualified to serve," he said.
Rose said parents of recruits are more conscious than ever of the Army's budget woes, which have driven proposals to cut benefits for troops.
"That's the other challenging thing," Rose said.
With the Army carving 80,000 soldiers from its roster in coming years, job security is also a worry for recruits, he said.
"What that means to us is that it is more critical than ever to recruit the best," he said.