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The threat of tangling swords with Saddam Hussein's army has made it more difficult for the U.S. armed services to recruit Western New York high school students this year.

That's the bad news for local recruiters.

The good news is that recruiters say they're still having little problem meeting their recruiting goals, largely because federal budget problems and the melting of the Cold War have reduced those quotas by 15 to 25 percent.

For example, the local Marine Corps recruiting office for 19 counties of Western New York and Pennsylvania has met its monthly goal for the past 62 months, while the Army's Buffalo recruiting office has met every monthly goal for at least the past two years.

Trouble signs sit on the horizon, however.

At Lafayette High School, where between 35 and 50 juniors usually take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, only 13 signed up this year, according to guidance counselor Robert Sheehan.

At Grover Cleveland High School, where typical armed services recruiting sessions attracted 12 to 15 students last year, only two or three are showing up this year, guidance counselor Thomas N. McGinty said.

Operation Desert Shield remains the likeliest cause.

"Everybody's running scared from anything involving the military," McGinty said. "All of the recruiters who have come here this year have noticed the dramatic decline, even for the kids who come to an informational meeting."

Not everyone paints such a bleak recruitment picture.

Pamela Kiely, a guidance counselor at Tonawanda High School, said she failed to notice any change in students' response to recruiters' visits.

"The students who were talking about entering the armed services in September are still talking about it now," she added. "There are some individuals who feel a commitment to their country and want to serve it."

Similarly, armed services recruiters gave varying assessments of the effect of a threatened armed conflict in the Persian Gulf.

"Without a doubt, it has had some impact, but not a dramatic one," said Maj. Tom Yackley, commanding officer for the Western New York recruiting office of the Marine Corps. "The volume of applicants we have to talk to to get the desired number has increased."

Sgt. 1st Class Larry York, commander of the Army's Buffalo recruiting office, said he has noticed no effect from Operation Desert Shield.

"Everybody keeps saying Desert Shield is a problem, but I haven't had a problem here," York added. "None whatsoever."

York gave one possible explanation:

"You have kids who, since they were 7 years old, wanted to join the Army. They're still going to go. The gung-ho kid is going to want to get in on the action."

Lt. Scott Fleming, chief of testing for the Buffalo Military Entrance Processing Station, said 4,403 juniors and seniors in his 13-county area have taken the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test this year, compared to 4,972 last year. That's a drop of about 11 percent.

He attributed the decrease to factors other than Operation Desert Shield, namely the continued decline in the high school population and budget restraints.

Largely because of the easing of Cold War pressures and the federal defense cuts generated by the Gramm-Rudman Act, the Defense Department scaled back its recruiting goals by roughly 15 to 25 percent this year.

In the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, the Marine Corps recruiting office for Western New York and Pennsylvania has a goal of 544 new signed recruits, compared to 633 the previous year.

The Army recruiting office for Buffalo and Lackawanna has a goal of 40 recruits from October through December, compared to 50 over the same three months last year.

Because the armed services are looking for a smaller number of good men -- and women -- their standards have increased.

In the Marines, for example, 95 percent of the new recruits must have a traditional high school diploma, compared with a 90 percent figure in the last fiscal year. Standards also have been raised on written and strength tests.

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