Who Needs Uncle Sam?

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Uncle Sam wants you so badly that if you join up by Thursday he’ll give you a $6,000 signing bonus. The offer comes as Army recruitment figures look set to fall 7,000 troops short of its target when the military’s fiscal year ends Thursday. Meanwhile, the Air Force is 1,500-odd airmen light, and Navy is scrambling to keep up –- last year lowering its targets to accept recruits who had failed to finish high school. The worst military recruitment shortfall in 20 years is obviously partly a product of a booming economy, which tempts many young Americans to be all they can be at the office. But it’s also about peace. "During the Cold War, many soldiers felt there was a reason for being in the military," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Today there’s no clearly defined enemy, just a sense of uncertainty about what’s out there in the world."

Peacekeeping in Kosovo may not have quite the same stepping-into-the-breach cachet as serving on a Cold War frontline, but cultural factors have changed too. "There’s not much of a national service orientation in America now," says Thompson. "Even without an obvious enemy, they could be selling the military as a place to encounter America, but they know that won’t sell it to the current generation of kids. So they’re going to be struggling with a recruitment problem for some time." Maybe they ought to float a Pentagon IPO, and offer stock options.