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The German military has launched a drive to address troop shortages by offering new recruits a guarantee they will not be deployed abroad.
A thousand recruits a year will be able to join a new Homeland Security Force which will only be deployed inside Germany to deal with domestic security and crisis management.
Those serving with the force will not be sent on missions abroad and the military has pledged to deploy them as close to their homes in Germany as possible.
“The Homeland Security Force will give young people the opportunity to stand up for Germany and protect their homeland,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the defence minister, told a press conference to launch the new service.
“There are many young people who are interested in a career in the armed forces, but don’t want to commit themselves too strongly to serve.”
Despite the similar name, the new force bears no resemblance to the US Department of Homeland Security. Instead its work is expected to focus largely on disaster relief and managing crises like the coronavirus pandemic.
The German military has been struggling to recruit troops since conscription ended in 2012, and last year 20,200 positions were unfilled.
Ursula von der Leyen, now president of the European Commission, tried to address the issue during her time as German defence minister by offering army creches and flexible working hours for soldiers. But the measures were widely ridiculed and did little to address troop shortages.
Her successor Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has taken a different approach by focusing on the German military’s growing number of missions abroad.
The issue of overseas military deployments is controversial in Germany because of the country’s history. The Bundeswehr was founded as a purely defensive force by postwar West Germany and initially only took part in humanitarian missions abroad. It did not take part in military deployments outside Nato countries until 1991.
But in recent years overseas deployments have proliferated and German forces have served in Afghanistan and in the skies over Syria and Iraq. The defence ministry now believes the likelihood of being sent abroad is putting off potential recruits.
Those joining the new Homeland Security Force will be given four month’s basic military training, and three months of further specialist training. They will be reservists for six years and be expected to serve a total of five months on active duty during that time.
The defence ministry says they will be used to fill gaps at home in Germany when regular personnel are deployed abroad. But it is clear there are also hopes some will be enticed to sign up for a more permanent military life.
There is no shortage of work for the new force. The German military has been deployed in the fight against the coronavirus, and some 20,000 soldiers are currently helping at retirement homes and with the vaccine roll-out.
But the new force has come under fire from critics who say it is usurping the role of Germany’s existing civil volunteer services.
“Voluntary services are the prerogative of civil society, not the state," Peter Neher, president of the Catholic charity Caritas in Germany, told the broadcaster Deutsche Welle.. “Creating a new service, which is much better paid, is blind actionism.”
The new force’s name has also stirred some controversy. Heimat, the German word for homeland, is more often associated with the far-Right and is a favourite of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD).
“We don't want to leave the term to the far-Right and let them abuse it, but rather recapture it for the democratic centre,” Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “Home is more than just a place. It is something you carry in your heart.”