For the first time in more than a decade, the Marines in January fell short of their monthly goal for new recruits signing enlistment contracts to begin serving within a year.

The corps missed their monthly goal again in February by more than 6% - with potential recruits apparently staying away in view of the continuing Iraq war.

"It’s a challenging recruiting environment right now," said Major David Griesmer, spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

In February, Marines signed up 2772 of a target of 2964. Some of them will join a total force of 177,000.

But Griesmer said that in both months, the Marines reached their goals for new recruits actually entering boot camp. So a higher percentage of those who promised to enlist followed through and entered the Corps.

In year-to-date figures for the current fiscal year, which ends 30 September, the Marines were 1% behind their goal for signing up new recruits and 2% ahead in shipping new recruits into boot camp.

Iraq impact

The recruiting shortfalls come as Marines play an integral role in military operations in Iraq, which have caused a steady stream of combat deaths.

"It’s a challenging recruiting environment right now" 

Maj. David Griesmer Spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command

Marines have performed some of the most dangerous and grueling tasks in the guerilla war, for example spearheading the November offensive in Falluja.

In describing the recruiting challenge faced by the Marines, Griesmer mentioned the Iraq war and said recruiters are having to work hard to sell the idea of military service to potential recruits and their parents.

General Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters last week he was optimistic about reaching recruiting goals for the current fiscal year.

"What recruiters are telling us is that they have to spend more time with the parents. And regardless of whether the individual American is 17 or 18 or 19, parents have influence – rightly so – on the decisions that these young men and women are going to make," Hagee said.

"And they are saying, It's not, maybe, a bad idea to join the Marine Corps, but why don’t you consider it a year from now or two years from now? Let's think about this.' So the recruiters are having to work much harder out there right now."