About Armed Civilians at Recruiting Centers

In the wake of the Chattanooga shooting, we’re seeing several places where well meaning civilians have taken upon themselves the duty of standing guard over recruiting stations.

While we admire the intent, the fact is, it will have some unintended consequences. US Army Recruiting Command has issued guidance to the field regarding this.  Via TAH.

Subject: USAREC Policy – Armed citizens at recruiting centers ATO’s,

Situation: The USAREC COC has received reports from two Brigade ATOs, social media and TV coverage that law abiding armed citizens are standing outside of our recruiting centers in an attempt to safeguard our recruiters.

Execution:

1) Recruiters will not acknowledge the presence or interact with these civilians. If questioned by these alleged concerned citizens; be polite, professional, and terminate the conversation immediately and report the incident to local law enforcement and complete USAREC Form 958 IAW USAREC 190-4 (SIR)

2) Do not automatically assume these concerned citizens are there to help.
Immediately report IAW USAREC 190-4 (Suspicious Behavior)

3) Immediately report any civilians loitering near the Station/Center to local police if the recruiter feels threatened. Ensure your recruiters’ clearly articulate to local police the civilian may be armed and in possession of a conceal/carry permit. Ensure recruiters include any information provided by local police in their SIR reporting the incident.

4) Ensure all station commanders implement FPCON Charlie 6 (Lock and secure entry points) addressed in previous email.

5) I’m sure the citizens mean well, but we cannot assume this in every case and we do not want to advocate this behavior.

*** The timely and accurate submission of 958s (SIR) is imperative to track these incidents and elicit support from TRADOC, ARNORTH and NORTHCOM.

As with Jonn, I agree that this is a mostly reasonable policy. The Army cannot endorse the actions of the citizens. Nor can they simply assume they mean well. Furthermore, should some untoward action occur, say, these citizens mistakenly take another American for a threat and engage them unlawfully, it is imperative that it be known that the Army had nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, FPCON Charlie 6 (Force Protection Condition) basically shuts down the recruiting station. And therein lies a problem, as the sine qua non of recruiting is engaging with the public.

While informing local law enforcement, and filing SIRs makes sense, it also increases the odds of an unhappy encounter between these citizens and LEOs.

I think as a first step, USAREC might have directed station commanders to share this guidance with those citizens who are attempting to both provide a service and made a statement. One presumes that senior NCOs have enough judgment to discern the likelihood that a party of armed citizens outside have no ill intent, and sharing this guidance would cause them to reconsider if their actions were truly in the recruiter’s best interests. And if they choose to continue their vigil, well, provided they are within the bounds of the law, that is their right.

One For the Body Snatchers

Er, I mean “Recruiters”.  Of which our gracious host was one.  Pushing clay-heads at Parris Island, I got an interesting perspective on the recruiting process.  And having known a few personally, the stories I heard were likely mostly true.

In the process of interviewing EVERY LAST damned recruit to go through a training cycle, I would save the better recruits for last.  Then, I could ask some off-script questions.  Like “If you could be alone with someone for fifteen minutes, who would it be?”  The answers were almost universally “My girlfriend!” or “Jennifer Anniston”, you get the idea…

Except this one recruit.  I asked him the question, but he didn’t answer for prolly thirty seconds.  Then, when he did, he answered “My f*ckin’ Recruiter, Sir!”

Recruiting Woes

Friday’s Wall Street Journal had an alarming story on the number of American youth who are simply not qualified to enlist in the services.

As a recruiter in the booming 1990s, the Army (especially in the manufacturing areas of the midwest) was often seen by young people and their parents as an employer of last resort. I can tell you, more than a few were crushed to learn, upon turning to that last resort, that the institution they had held in mild contempt had no use for them when they did come calling.

There is a bare minimum statutory level of qualification set by Congress for enlistment. But each of the services also sets minimums via their own respective regulations. Back in my day, AR601-210 was the regulation concerning active and reserve component Army enlistments. Regulations can, and often are changed.

For instance, AR601-210 might change as often as monthly, and certainly every quarter there would be an update. Also, the regulation would reserve to the Commanding General of US Army Recruiting Command authority to set and change certain minimum characteristics for eligibility, such as how many people with a GED in lieu of a high school diploma would be permitted to enlist.

You may recall that back in 2006, at the height of the fighting in Iraq, the Army was struggling to make the enlistment numbers it needed. And not surprisingly, it lowered the standards of who it would allow in. Not terribly much lower. Just a little bit. Certainly nothing like McNamara’s Army of 100,000. But still, the erosion in standards was seen by many to lead to large numbers of troops lacking the discipline and qualities that earlier enlistees had possessed.

With the end of major US presence in Iraq, the coming withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, and the downsizing of the military due to budget constraints, the numbers of recruits needed annually for all the services has gone down considerably. And as a result, not surprisingly, the services have reacted by raising the standards for enlistment.

One problem is, the very same high quality people that the Army and other services want to enlist are the very same people that employers and colleges want so badly.  Another is that the services have standards in place that the competition simply doesn’t have to concern itself with.  Very few insurance salesmen have to display an ability to perform sit-ups, push-ups, and a two-mile run in a given time. 

Not only are the services struggling to find people that have a willingness or propensity to join. They’re struggling to find people that can meet the big three qualification standards- 1. Mental, 2. Physical, and 3. Moral.

The WSJ article has the painful statistic:

The military services don’t keep figures on how many people they turn away. But the Defense Department estimates 71% of the roughly 34 million 17- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. would fail to qualify to enlist in the military if they tried, a figure that doesn’t even include those turned away for tattoos or other cosmetic issues. Meanwhile, only about 1% of youths are both “eligible and inclined to have a conversation with us” about military service, according to Major Gen. Allen Batschelet, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

The biggest problem is, of course, fat people. We as a nation are just a heck of a lot fatter than we used to be.  I’m not one for encouraging the federal government (or anyone else) to impose corrections upon this, but the fact is, a lot of kids are fat.  We simply have to recognize that. Some folks who are highly motivated to enlist can and will lose sufficient weight to enlist. Most will not.

A further cause for concern:

About a quarter of high-school graduates also can’t pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which measures math and reading skills, Gen. Youngman said. “They aren’t educationally qualified to join the military in any capacity, not just the high-tech jobs,” he said.

In most of the schools I recruited in, if a student had a reasonable GPA in class, I was confident they would score well on the ASVAB test. I was appalled to learn that in other schools, those schools with virtually all African American enrollment, that even students with excellent grade point averages were quite likely to be either functionally illiterate, or only marginally literate. There’s nothing like telling someone who recently graduated high school with honors that they couldn’t even score above the 32nd percentile on their second try on a test.

As for the moral qualification for enlistment, I have a couple thoughts, though not necessarily supported by more than my gut instinct. First, when you discuss waivers for past criminal activity by an enlistment prospect, one thing you’ll often here is the large numbers of felony waivers granted. Well, back in 2007 or so, there were a disturbingly large number. But that isn’t as cut and dried as you might think. First, large numbers of waivers for possession of small amounts of marijuana. In some states, that’s either a misdemeanor or even a simple citation. So while our prospect and the jurisdiction in which he was arrested might not think it a major issue, for the Army, any drug related offense is automatically considered to be a felony offense. As such, our prospect would be required to apply for a waiver for enlistment. That waiver is by no means automatic. The recruiting battalion commander, upon review of the waiver request (with quite a bit of supporting documentation) might grant it, or request a personal interview with the prospect to judge for himself the prospect’s level of motivation and sincerity, or request further evidence (such as character references from respected members of the community) or he might simply deny the waiver.

Another thing regarding moral issues. Our notional prospect cannot enlist with any form of all of civil restraint. That is, he cannot have so much as an outstanding parking ticket. He may not be on parole, probation, conditional release, diversion or any of the other terms used to describe someone who is in any way still subject to actions by the police or courts. And the should a court offer any version of “join the Army or go to jail” in any way,shape or form, it is an automatic, non-waiverable, non-appealable permanent bar to enlistment. You’re done. Through. Put a fork in ‘em.  The point being that any prospect who has ever had any interaction with the police has to be free and clear of any debt to society.

A last bit on moral issues, that is, prospects for enlistment who have been arrested. Again, just a gut feeling, personal impression. Many police forces now aggressively pursue charges for very minor issues that in years past would have seen little more than either a dressing down, or a call to the parents. That’s not just because police like to do that. Part of it is known as “holding paper.” That is, when a serial offender finally commits a serious crime, the police don’t want him in front of a judge pleading for leniency because he is a first time offender. If the police can point to a paper trail of multiple, escalating offenses, the judge is far more likely to impose a realistic sentence. Now, most of our young potential prospects, having been cited for disturbing the peace, or what have you, will straighten up and stay on the straight and narrow. And as long as they are not further entangled in the court system, that’s OK as far as the Army is concerned. But it doesn’t take many incidents for a young man or woman to find themselves so enmeshed in the criminal court system that they are unqualified for enlistment.

Let me revisit this for a moment: “Meanwhile, only about 1% of youths are both “eligible and inclined to have a conversation with
us” about military service.”

You’ve heard the US military described as an All Volunteer Force ever since the draft was ended. Recruiters know better. It’s an All-Recruited Force.  With only a minority of the population qualified, and and even smaller segment of that pool even willing to consider military service, recruiters from all branches have to work extraordinarily hard to find the manpower to field our nation’s great services.

The ASVAB and the AFQT

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is used to determine a potential recruit’s capacity to absorb the technical training involved in any particular military occupation. Four components of the battery of tests are used to determine basic knowledge, and eligibility for enlistment. This portion is known as the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT.

See how well you do.

I missed one. But in my defense, it was an algebra question. There’s not a lot of algebra in the Infantry.

Is the Navy full?

The economy’s recovery is doing so well, thousands upon thousands of people have simply given up looking for work.

One effect this has had is that many people that previously would have given little or no thought to enlistment have turned to the services in hopes of finding a job, and skills to put to work in the civilian market later.

But the services are also going through severe budget challenges. That means they need to recruit fewer people. Further, there are a lot of people that kinda sorta feel like leaving the service, but take a look at the economy and decide a job they don’t really like is better than no job at all. That is, retention is unusually high, considering the operational tempo all the services have been sustaining.

So where just a few short years ago, the Army(and to a lesser extent, the other services as well)  would issue waivers for enlistment for nominal disqualifications, primarily medical and legal, but also for education, today those waivers are highly unlikely to be granted.

Over the last ten years, Navy Recruiting’s enlisted active duty mission has averaged roughly 37 thousand per year; that is a decrease of more than 13 thousand per year needed during the previous ten years. There are many reasons for the decrease in those numbers, but basically, it comes down to how many openings are expected to be available after the Navy’s retention rates are considered. The Navy’s projected enlisted active duty end-strength for FY 2014 is 265,878 (a number by the way that has been in general decline over the past 20+ years) – the Navy’s retention remains high, and I do not expect the recruiting goals for 2014 to exceed the average, as a matter of fact, I would not be surprised if 2014 sees the lowest recruiting mission the Navy has ever had; low 30K? I am speculating, of course, but based on the comments and emails I have received that describe what seems to be an ever increasing number of folks being sent home from MEPS with the distinction, “Qualified, No Jobs” – it sounds like a pretty large chunk of FY-14’s openings have already been filled. (hyperlinks in original-XBrad)

The plural of anecdote isn’t data, but we know our friend AggieSprite’s eldest has been trying for months to enlist, and the service is in no great rush to sign her up.

Now, you’d think this would make recruiter’s lives easier. Actually… no. What happens for the recruiter is that monthly missions remain roughly the same, but the quality requirements each potential enlistee must meet are raised.  It’s almost like the various accession commands insist the recruiter’s pain level must be maintained at a certain level.

Changes in Recruiting

Looks like the Army is making some changes in how it conducts its recruiting operations. (Warning- Link to NY Times)

The Army has begun remaking its recruiting structure, a change it aims to complete by 2015. Donald Herth, chief of advertising and public affairs for the Army’s Columbus Recruiting Battalion, based in Ohio, said the staff and duties of recruiting offices would be consolidated to make better use of resources and bring recruiting “more in line with everyday Army life,” where soldiers are deployed as teams.

In the past, recruiting officers worked alone, identifying prospective soldiers, processing their applications and preparing them for basic training.

Kathleen Welker, a public information officer for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., said recruiters failed or succeeded on their own merit.

“But the fact is, even though they are all trained, just by virtue of personality, not everybody is as good at everything,” she said.

Under the new model, recruiters will be deployed as teams from centralized offices that have civilian employees to handle much of the administrative work. A handful of such consolidated centers are up and running. One in Coney Island, in Brooklyn, is scheduled to open this month, and will be staffed by recruiters from three nearby offices that are closing.

I’d love to see more details on how this new approach works. As it is, I’ve got some pretty strong concerns.

While there are a fair number of one or two man recruiting stations, particularly out West, most stations are already 5 or 6 man stations. My personal experience was in a station that typically had 5 Active Duty recruiters, two Reserve recruiters, and a station commander. We covered a the northern half of Lake County, IN, with Gary, East Chicago, Hammond and a slew of smaller towns in our catchment area.

One of the key elements of any success we had as recruiters was that we lived in the community in which we worked. When I spoke to the parents of a prospective soldier, there was every likelihood that I’d shopped at their business, or knew mutual acquaintances or had some mutual link with them in the community. Selling the Army is an exercise in trust. If your community doesn’t trust you, no one will join the Army through you. And the only way to establish that trust is to be known. That’s pretty hard to do if you aren’t there full time.

As for civilian administrative support during the enlistment process, you’d think that handing that phase off would allow recruiters more time to prospect and actively recruit. But as a recruiter, I’d have  been very, very leery of it. Recruiters establish a level of rapport and trust with their prospects. By and large, I liked the people I recruited, and like to think they liked me. More importantly, they trusted me.*  But until that person actually flew out to their initial entry training, the sell was a soft one. I put a lot of effort into recruiting a troop, and I sure didn’t want someone else screwing it up. The only time the prospect was out of my control was when he was sitting down with a counselor at the Military Entrance Processing Station. That was fine. A “two man rule” ensured that nothing hinky was going on. His job was to make sure the enlistment was valid. But he also was dedicated to treating each enlistee well. He got graded on his numbers too, you know!

But a civilian processing paperwork for an enlistment will essentially have no incentive to protect that soft close with an enlistee. And it doesn’t take a whole lot for someone to back out of a verbal commitment to enlist. One bit of carelessness or lack of rapport can mean a lost enlistment. And I’m not sure how the Recruiting Command can overcome this challenge. If anyone has details, I’d sure like to know.

*Sure, everyone likes to say their recruiter lied to them. I’ll buck that trend. Both my recruiters were honest with me. Sure, they tended to paint things in the best possible light, but they didn’t really promise me breakfast in bed during basic training, or any of that crap. And I tried to be very honest with my recruits. After all, the very first thing they did after Basic Training was to come home and tell all their friends what the Army was like. Having the first words out of their mouths “SGT XBrad is lying liar what lies!” was not what I wanted. 

Speaking of G-Jets…

Every recruiter had his own government issued vehicle. The General Services Administration would lease cars for a three or four year term, and parcel them out to recruiting stations. While we might switch cars from time to time, most of the time, we had one car, and used it for all our official business.

Unlike the hassle of getting a tactical vehicle dispatched (basically, permission from battalion to take a vehicle out of a motor pool), these cars had a fairly low administrative overhead. We didn’t have to detail every point we travelled to, just our total daily mileage. A fleet credit card handled refueling at damn near any gas station.

They weren’t very luxurious cars, but they weren’t that bad either. Back in the Old Army, the Army actually bought fleets of cars itself. My recruiter had a Chrysler K-Car. And back then, all non-tactical Army cars came in a hideous pastel light green color. It beat the baby blue of the Air Force, but not by much. In my day, GSA cars came with AM and FM radio. Heck, we even had air conditioning! Sadly, no cruise control. Given the number of trips I would make along the Interstate to South Bend and Indianapolis, that was annoying, but hey, I was Army Strong!

Since we typically ignored local speed limits, and drove like bats out of hell, GSA cars were known almost universally as “G-Jets.”

As the New Guy in the recruiting station, my first G-Jet was, of course, the oldest, crappiest car at the station. It was a Ford Tempo that had been ridden hard.  Recruiters spend a lot of time in their cars. And apparently, the guy I replaced was a fat ass, because the cushion on the driver side seat was shot. There were plenty of holes in the cheap upholstery as well, since he had also been a smoker.  And three winters in northwest Indiana meant the paint job was lookin’ a tad rough as well. Still, it ran. Of course, it was pretty gutless.

Soon, I was tasked to go to Indianapolis and trade it in for a new car, a 1995 Chevy Corsica. Woot! Not exactly a muscle car, nor yet a Beemer, but still, not too embarrassing to be seen in. I dropped off the old Ford, signed my John Hancock on the bottom line taking possession from some fat GSA civilian, and headed back home. I’ve never owned a new car. This thing had less than a dozen miles on the clock. The “break in” period for it would consist of driving 160 miles back to the station as fast as traffic would allow.

I was about a mile from the exit that would deposit me at the recruiting station when a big old chunk of asphalt the size of a Baby Ruth bar was kicked up by the truck in front of me. It spanged off the hood, bounced up and hit the top of the windshield and disappeared behind me, scaring me silly in the process. The windshield didn’t crack, but as soon as I could get a look at the outside, I found a gouge in the hood about an inch long that went clear through the paint and primer down to bare metal. The top of the frame for the windshield had a fair dent as well. I think I was the only recruiter picking up a new car that day that had to fill out an accident report. Never did get either dent repaired though.

—–

Our station was in a strip mall that had a huge parking lot, but very few successful businesses, so it was almost always  empty. On mornings with a new snow, I’d head out before the snowplow came, and do donuts in the snow for a while. Not terribly satisfying in a front wheel drive car, but better than nothing.

—–

G-Jets were for official government business only, so one of the big rules was, don’t take your G-Jet home. That’s what your own car was for!.

Well… did you know it occassionally rains like heck in the midwest? They even have flash floods from time to time.  And so it came to pass, one recruiter (not me!) heard a real frog-strangler comin’ down upon his abode one night. And lo, the waters did rise. His home was in a place called Frog Holler, of all things. And his whole street flooded. He sure picked the wrong night to bring his G-Jet home.  The water reached almost to the roof of the car. It didn’t get swept too far away, but the car was a total loss from flood damage. I’m not sure what song and dance they gave battalion, but the recruiter somehow managed to avoid having to buy the car.

I’m not sayin’ I never took mine home. I’m just sayin’ mine was never ruined in a flood.

—–

I was heading down US 30 on day, and as it turned out, a recruiter from another station just happened to fall in behind me. As I stopped at a light, he decided to have  a little fun at my expense, and pulled up right behind me and very gently nudged my car with his. Very, very gently. I didn’t even notice it, or notice him behind me. So at the next red light, he decided to tap me just a little harder.

Oops.

He forgot that cars in the 90s didn’t have metal bumpers. He gave me a pretty good jolt. And just about tore off the front bumper of his car. I hopped out, saw a few scuff marks on my rear bumper. I jumped back in and hauled ass. Given that every accident report was supposed to have a police report attached, I don’t know what he told battalion had happened, but I never heard any more about it. And no one else ever wanted to play bumper cars with me.

—-

Time passes us all by. Ford had had their turn, and so with Chevy. After about 3 years, it came time to bid adieu to the Corsica. Off to Indy to swap out cars. About 50 of us were picking up new cars that day. The Corsica wasn’t much to look at, and was hardly a thoroughbred, but it was a good solid car. I was just getting the driver side seatcushions to fit my butt. I swapped it for some crappy Plymouth.  It was the most gutless thing I’d driven in years. I had to stand on the gas pedal just to get it to move. The seats were awful. The ergonomics of the whole car were bad.

On the trip home from Indy, the car almost stalled a couple times. This was the days before cell phones were quite ubiquitous. I was pretty concerned that if I did break down in the middle of nowhere, I might be there a while. As it turns out, by the time I did manage to limp back to the station, the battalion had been swamped with calls. Almost half of the recruiters who picked up Plymouths that morning had broken down on the way home. Must have been a batch of “Monday” cars. But hey, at least it had cruise control!

—–

G-Jets stateside were from the Big Three automakers. Gotta keep those government dollars at home. But in Germany, things were a tad different. There, the Status of Forces Agreement led to the Army (not GSA) buying fleets of non-tactical vehicles from the Germans. So when I was the XO’s driver at Brigade, I had my tactical vehicle (at first, an M1009 CUCV~ essentially a 1977 K5 Blazer, later I had a Humvee). But the Brigade also had a Volkswagon Van. Painted a bright yellow, it was inevitably known as the Banana Wagon. I actually drove that more than my truck. The CO and the CSM had their own drivers, but if the trip involved taking the Banana Wagon, we’d pretty much get tasked to drive whomever. The CO, Dan Zanini, went on to three stars. The CSM Gene McKinney went on to notoriety as the Sergeant Major of the Army, and a court martial.  My boss, the XO, David Ozoleck, retired as a Colonel and went into industry. Neat guy. Smart as a whip, fun and funny. Great leader. The Army missed an opportunity when he didn’t get a maneuver battalion command.

The Banana Wagon placed the driver well ahead of the front wheels. That took me quite a while to get used to. And I never could get the mirrors just right. It had a huge blind side on the driver side. More than once I almost merged into passing cars. But after a while, it got to be pretty fun to drive. Comfortable, spacious, and a decent ride and surprisingly good power. It wasn’t a Porche, but it was German engineered.

—–

I drove a few other G-Jets in my time
, including a Dodge Rampage in Army Lime Green.  I even drove a big old Mercedes cab-over truck my unit had leased to help move people out during the drawdown in Europe-

“XBrad, you got a civilian license?”

“Yes, First Sergeant!”

“OK, drive this truck anywhere the Lieutenant wants to go!”

**looks at truck much, much larger than any I’d ever driven before**

“Yes, First Sergeant!”

What? You wanna tell the First Sergeant no?

Back in the day…

Roamy keeps bugging me to tell stories about my time in the Army. The problem is, I told all the interesting stories way back in the first year of the blog.  The fact is, most of my time in the Army was a 9 to 5 job.

Round about 1997 or so, when I was on recruiting duty, I had to run up to the Military Entrance Processing Station for the Greater Chicago area, which is just outside the perimeter of O’Hare airport in a township called Des Plaines.   It was a good 2 and a half hour drive from our recruiting station in northwest Indiana. Of course, everyone drove their government issue cars like maniacs, so it was closer to 2 hours even.

Now, Company and Battalion pounded into us at every opportunity that getting a ticket while driving a government vehicle was the most horrific thing ever, worse than kicking a puppy. Woe betide the recruiter that got a ticket. On the other hand, woe betide the recruiter that spent more than two hours getting up to MEPS….

So it came to pass that I was haulin’ ass up to Des Plaines, on the Tri-State Expressway. And busily weaving through traffic in a manner that exemplifies poor road manners. And thus came to the attention of the Illinois State Police. As I saw the blue lights flash in the rear view mirror, a heavy pit formed in my stomach. As I coasted to the side of the road, I trembled in fright. What would the chain of command do when I got a ticket for 88 in a 55? Bend my dog tags? Stamp my meal card “no dessert?”

I pulled my license, and then kind of got to wondering just where was the registration for a GSA vehicle? I knew the US government was self insured, but I don’t think it ever occurred to me to even look for the registration. And there was no real proof written anywhere that I was, in fact, authorized to operate the vehicle. Was I going to get hauled off to jail?

Crap! The guy I was going to pick up wasn’t even MY recruit! It was one of the other recruiters in the office. Why did I get stuck playing taxi driver? Whatever excuse the other recruiter had, it wasn’t good enough, or I’d remember it.

A glance in the rear view mirror showed the  Smokey hat and mirrored sunglasses being donned, and soon, an old an wizened Trooper began his walk to the driver side window. I rolled down the window preparing my excuses.

1. It wasn’t me!

2. I didn’t do it!

3. The sun was in my eyes!

4. These four cylinder Chevy Corsicas just have way more power than I’m used to !

5. I was chasing Illinois Nazis!

Long service with senior NCOs prompted me instead to follow another course of action. I kept my damn mouth shut.

The Trooper leaned into the open driver side window and pronounced my fate…

“Slow the hell down, son!”

He turned, walked back to his cruiser, and rode off into the sunset.

I rode off too. About 30 miles an hour slower than I had been going.