Senior Army leadership has known for years that recruiting new soldiers has only been getting tougher, but even so, they set an ambitious goal of 80,000 new soldiers for fiscal year 2018.

It didn’t totally work out, as the service fell short with 70,000 by late September, after dropping the goal down to 76,500 earlier in the year. And though retention was higher than its ever been, the Army’s end strength did not go up at all in 2018.

“So, if you ask me how we did recruiting? Phenomenal,” Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey told Army Times in September, adding that 70,000 is still more recruits than in the past decade.

“Bluntly, did we meet the end stated goal? No. But am I worried about that? Not at all. I already know how we’re going to do. I already know my projections are very close to the number for in-service retention.”

The active component held steady at 476,000 soldiers, though it was meant to tick up to 483,500. That means that the Army has an 11,500-soldier hill to climb to make it to the 487,500 end strength it is signed up for in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act.

So far, the 86 percent retention rate is holding steady, and Dailey told Army Times in September that his numbers showed the Army had already retained 80 percent of the total it needed for 2019.

Which leaves recruiting as the perennial challenge. As of November, the recruiting force was still struggling with a shortfall of about 400 noncommissioned officers, despite plans to man the force at 8,300 in the coming years.

To grow the ranks, Army Recruiting Command is offering current recruiters the chance to extend their orders by a year, to the tune of $1,500 a month in extra pay.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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