Dwindling Army Applications Afghanistan Puts Germans Off Military Career

The German army is facing a shortage of recruits. Demographics play a role in the problem, but so too do poor pay and conditions. However, army representatives say the biggest problem is the dangerous mission in Afghanistan.


A memorial service for the German soldier killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday.
DDP

A memorial service for the German soldier killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

German political pundits are fond of pointing out that, should Barack Obama be elected as the next president of the United States, it will be much more difficult for Germany to turn him down should he ask Berlin for help in the world's hotspots. But recent statistics show that even should the political will exist, the German army might have trouble mustering the soldiers necessary.

According to a Friday report in the daily Die Welt, demographic trends in Germany may lead to a dwindling number of young Germans willing to join the military. Consistently low birth rates in Germany mean that the number of high school graduates in Germany will fall from 974,000 in 2007 to 781,000 in 2020 -- a drop of 20 percent.

That, though, isn't the only problem facing the Bundeswehr, as Germany's army is called. There are indications that the army is already losing its shine as a career choice, with the German Army Federation -- a kind of trade union for the armed forces -- claiming that the country's Afghanistan mission has led to a 50 percent drop in applications in 2008. The German Defense Ministry on Thursday dismissed these figures, but admitted that in the first half of 2008 it had seen 16 percent fewer applicants to become officers and 11 percent fewer for lower grades. The ministry argued that this was a normal fluctuation and that it expected application numbers for all of 2008 to be similar to the previous year. The ministry also said that while around 10 percent of officers break off their careers early, these numbers are consistent with previous years.

Still, the army is still facing that future demographic dip and Bernhard Gertz, the chairman of the German Army Federation, told the Frankfurter Zeitung that the Bundeswehr has to "draw serious conclusions from the growing problem of finding a younger generation."

For Reinhold Robbe, the German parliament's military commissioner, demographics are not at the root of the problem. He told the Berliner Zeitung that it was more an issue of the "attractiveness" of a life in the army. He said that highly-qualified officers have to work under dangerous conditions and increasingly long hours, and at the end of the month they come home with less in their pockets than if they worked in the civilian economy.

"There has to be a sober analysis of who earns what doing which tasks," he said in comments published on Friday. Robbe, whose job involves speaking regularly to soldiers about their concerns, believes that another reason for the drop off in Germans pursuing a military career is the toll it takes on family life. "The Bundeswehr has obviously been too late in realizing that the balance between family and career is becoming increasingly important."

Gertz's deputy at the German Army Federation, Ulrich Kirsh told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Thursday that economic concerns are not the only reason for a drop in applications. A soldier serving in Afghanistan gets a tax-free bonus of €92.03 for every day served, he pointed out, "but pay isn’t everything." It is the danger of the mission in Afghanistan that is making prospective soldiers think twice about a military career. He said that the latest German casualty in Afghanistan -- the death of a 29-year-old master sergeant in a bomb attack by the Taliban on Wednesday -- brought home the fact that death and injury was a part of that mission.

smd -- with wire reports

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