Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pentagon expanding number of aliens recruited

Pauline Jelinek
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is planning to expand the number of foreigners it recruits into the military in yet another effort to make up for chronic shortages of doctors, nurses and linguists available for wartime duty.

The Defense Department already draws from aliens living in the United States on green cards and seeking permanent residency. But under a trial program, it will now look to also recruit from pools of foreigners who've been living in the states on student and work visas, with refugee or political asylum status and other temporary visas.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to recruit certain legal residents whose critical medical and language skills are "vital to the national interest," officials said, using for the first time a law passed three years ago.

Gates' action enables the services to start a one-year pilot program to find up to 1,000 foreigners who have lived in the states legally for at least two years. The new recruits into the armed forces would get accelerated treatment in the process toward becoming U.S. citizens in return for military service in the United States or abroad.

"The services are doing a tremendous job of recruiting quality personnel to meet our various missions," sometimes with bonus pay and tuition for medical school, said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy. But they haven't been able to fill their need for 24,000 doctors, dentists and nurses in the Defense Department.

The Pentagon's doctor and nurse corps remain 1,000 short of the numbers needed to treat all the military's patients, and Carr said he hoped the program would fill the gaps.

The military's most pressing need is for neurosurgeons and dermatologists to treat troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain and burn injuries.

The force also lacks nurses with a broad range of specialties, Carr said.

At the same time, the U.S. Special Operations Command needs more people with special language and cultural skills for a war on terrorism that has taken the armed forces to more remote places across the globe.

Though the military has been looking for more Arabic speakers and others to help with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new program looks to recruit those proficient in some three dozen languages, including Albanian, Korean, Punjabi, Somali, Turkish, Burmese, Chinese, Czech, Malay and Swahili

There are now 29,000 non-citizens in uniform today, Carr said, with about 8,000 more enlisting every year.

He expects that among those who will be interested in the new effort are doctors with work visas who are employed at hospitals around the country, a program aimed at tackling shortages among U.S. medical professionals.

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