By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
December 6, 2008
The Pentagon plans to recruit more foreigners in a fresh 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
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