Wednesday, December 16, 1998 Published at 17:26 GMT
Military recruits on the rise
Recruitment officers are promoting military life among youngsters
The army is attracting more recruits among the ethnic minorities as part of a five-year plan to stamp out racial discrimination.
A massive recruitment drive means the armed forces have met targets for 1998. The army is working with the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to ensure 5% of the force is made up of ethnic groups by 2003.
They visited schools and ethnic communities to encourage school-leavers to sign up. It is the first time they have set up a partnership, after a long history of CRE criticism of the army.
Overall, 15,000 new recruits have joined the army this year - the best figure since 1991. Recruitment is still being stepped up to target a shortage of young trainees.
Army spokesman Major Michael Devlin said: "It's a matter of raising public awareness and reversing the slump since the reductions in the early 1990s. We did have a 6,000 shortfall, now it's under 5,000."
More woman are also being encouraged to sign up, with seven out of 10 army jobs now available to both sexes. Women are still not allowed into frontline jobs, however.
Long way to go
The CRE praised the army for trying to improve racial equality.
Spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons said: "It's early days yet to be celebrating but it's a good first step and we hope that at the end of the five years a significant difference will have been made."
"The army must also think about retention of service personnel," she said. "In a sense, recruitment is easy but it's retention of racial minorities that needs looking at. That's where the problems first started.
"It's important that people who feel they are bullied have clear lines of accountability."
The army runs a year-long National Vocational Qualifications training course and a 28-week basic course aimed at 16-year-old school leavers.
Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson welcomed the "excellent results" of the recruitment drive.
He said: "Young people are once again regarding the army as the career of first choice, which bases advancement on equal opportunities and merit."