ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 2, 2011 -- The Defense Department announced recruiting and retention numbers for the 2011 fiscal year recently, stating that the Army National Guard intentionally achieved only 95 percent of its recruiting goal in order to stay within its authorized end strength.

"We missed our accessions mission last year due to better-than-anticipated retention and a little bit of an economy factor, but it was an intentional miss and not due to a lack of accessions," said Col. Rob Porter, chief of the Army National Guard strength directorate.

Because of better-than-anticipated retention rates, "and a very low attrition rate, we were forced to have to cut back on our accessions in order to stay within our congressionally mandated end strength," he said.

This means that the Army National Guard has more first-time recruits wanting to join and serve than it has slots for them to fill -- and more of them want to stay in once they put on the uniform.

Porter said that 10 years ago there was a pretty even split between recruits coming into the Guard with prior military service and those without it.

"Since then, you can actually see the numbers shrinking up of those coming in with prior service," he said.

Porter said that last year alone, about 72 percent of those coming into the Army National Guard were without any prior military service -- a huge difference from about 53 percent back in fiscal year 01.

"The reason for this is due to the transformation of the Army National Guard to get into the high schools," he said. "We are a community-based force with recruiters who have longevity and are active members of the community."

Porter points out that not only is the Army National Guard recruiting more Soldiers without prior service, but that the Army National Guard is recruiting a better quality Soldier.

"Historic levels of those coming into the Army National Guard are coming in with a high school degree," he said. "Also, because of our recruiting success in the non-prior-service market, FY06 marked a milestone where those members with less than eight years exceeded the number of those with greater than eight years of service.

There are several reasons, according to Porter, for such great recruiting and retention numbers within the Army National Guard.

"One, there was a huge patriotic call in 2001 after Sept. 11," he said. "Programs over the years such as bonuses, student loan repayment, tuition assistance and just plain marketing have also contributed to our numbers."

When it comes to marketing and getting the Army National Guard out there as a brand, Porter said there has been a strong focus on motor sports to get the Guard name out there.

"We've also placed an emphasis on social media," he said.

"Recently we hit one-million Facebook fans, and we can attribute our (recruiting) success with our success in social media -- getting the word out and getting the Guard story out. It's not about throwing the Army National Guard on a pizza box, a race car or an Internet," he said. "It's about educating the public and raising brand awareness."

When it comes to retention, Porter said the biggest factors are leadership and meaningful training.

"These are huge factors when someone is deciding whether or not to continue their commitment. Sure, we've lost a few because of current [operational] tempos, but those Soldiers that are in want to serve."

Service in a world-class organization and the chance to be part of something bigger than yourself is the current Army National Guard message said Porter.

"This is a shift from years past where it was 'join the Guard, pay for college or join the Guard for a big bonus,'" he said. "So far there have been no hiccups with regards to accessions and this new message."

Porter said that message is not only drawing recruits to the Army National Guard, but it is also something that is keeping Soldiers already in the Army National Guard in the rank and file.

"This message of commitment is exactly what the recruiters are selling," he said. "Sure, the economy has affected our retention and accessions somewhat, but it's that opportunity to be a part of something bigger that is bringing Soldiers in and keeping them in."

"The Guard today is not your father's Army National Guard," he said. "It is a ready, younger force willing and capable of handling local, state and national missions."

For the future, Porter said he hopes to see the Army National Guard continue to meet its end strength, recruit quality Soldiers above the goals set forth by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, continue to fill critical job skills positions and continue to retain Soldiers within the Army National Guard at better-than-anticipated numbers.