Feeling a little extra pressure at work lately? Cheer up. For most of you it
could be worse.
You could be an Army recruiter.
The guys charged with replenishing the Army's ranks are as welcome in some
quarters as carriers
of bird flu.
These days that fry-cook job at McDonald's is looking a lot more enticing to
potential young recruits than it did a just few years ago. And parents
across the land have come up with an alternate take on an old cheer, crying
out "Go away, Army" to beleaguered recruiters.
The numbers tell the story. The Army just wrapped up one of its worst
recruiting years since it became an all-volunteer service more than three
decades ago. For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Army missed its
annual recruitment target by 7,000 enlistees-the largest such deficit since
And the future doesn't look any brighter. The number of recruits signed up
for the delayed-entry program has fallen dramatically the past couple of
That spells trouble for recruiters because they depend on the program to
give them a head start toward meeting annual recruitment goals. In fiscal
2004, 46 percent of the Army's enlistment target was met upfront by recruits
who had opted for delayed entry.
Last fiscal year, only 18 percent of enlistees were delayed entry, and the
Army came up way short of its annual goal.
For the fiscal year that's just begun, the Army can count on only 11 percent
of its recruitment target to be met by delayed-entry enlistees-which means
recruiters have a lot of ground to make up in coming months.
There's no question that the relatively strong economy hampers military
recruiters. Demographics pose a challenge, too.
According to Pentagon researchers, at least half of today's young Americans
between the ages of 16 and 21 aren't qualified to serve in the armed forces
because they don't meet education, health, or other entry standards.
But economics and demographics don't fully account for the Army's sudden
recruiting woes. The real explanation boils down to a four-letter word that
begins with a capital "I" and is commonly associated with other things
starting with same letter-like insurgents and Islamists and that nasty new
addition to our vocabulary, improvised explosive device.
The four-letter explanation, of course, is Iraq. And many would say that
other I-words-such as ill-advised and incompetent-come to mind when they
contemplate the Bush administration's military adventure in the Middle East.
Polls show that few Americans except hard-core Bush partisans believe in the
Iraq war anymore. Even some veterans of the campaign are coming back
questioning what's going on. At least half a dozen Iraq vets are running for
Congress next year on a platform demanding an exit strategy.
It's in this hostile environment that the Army has launched a new ad
campaign seeking to sell wary parents on the idea of their darling Johnny
getting his gun. But how many moms and dads are eager to send their kids off
to a disastrous occupation that's rapidly morphing into a civil war?
Sure, there are the true believers who'd say the outlook for Iraq isn't
really all that bad. There's a slim chance they may even be right.
So why aren't these folks the first ones signing up for service (they're
accepting recruits as old as 42!), or offering up their kids who are
Since a lot of the "stay the course" crowd is a little shy when it comes to
approaching a military recruiter, perhaps the rest of us can give them a
little push by passing their information along to the Army.
You probably know some of these pro-war types. Maybe you've had to endure
the guy next door or the guy in church talking up the war.
Well, why not log on to goarmy.com and sign him up for an info pack? Old
Earl can slap that flag magnet of his on the Hummer he'll be driving through
And high-school students, how about "volunteering" the teachers and
administrators who've welcomed recruiters and JROTC programs into your
classrooms? With any luck, school will be out for quite a while for Mr.
As for me, I've got my eye on a few scribes who bellowed for this war and
branded those who opposed it as America-haters and friends of terrorists.
I know where some of you live, keyboard warriors, and I've got some phone
numbers, too. The recruiters will be in touch.
Rick Mercier is a writer and news editor for The Free Lance-Star and a
frequent contributor to Knight Ridder/Tribune wire service. He can be
reached at email@example.com.