Recruiting in tough times…

As always, I stopped by Neptunus Lex to check out the latest news on culture and the Navy. As always, he brings some interesting information to us, this time on the sudden appeal of military service during tough financial times.

I recruited from 1995 to 1999. If you recall, this was during the dot-com boom, and the economy was enjoying rather robust growth. Good paying jobs were plentiful, and the area I recruited in also had a large number of colleges and universities within easy commuting distance.

Further, the area I recruited in was not one that viewed military service as being the “employer of first choice,” for reasons mostly cultural. These influences tended to make selling the Army a difficult task. Not impossible, but you had to talk to a lot of folks to find one that would say “yes.” Further, finding someone to say “yes” who was qualified, mentally, morally, and physically, was a challenge. I was in direct competition with car manufacturers, steel mills, and construction and contracting firms for the pool of available young men. And they all tended to pay better.

As for high school students and recent graduates, I was in direct competition with universities and community colleges. Consider this- high school counselors are evaluated almost solely on the percentage of their students who go to college after graduation. What they weren’t evaluated on was whether those students graduated from college, or whether a college education fit those students goals for employment or otherwise fulfilled the student’s needs. To say that most counselors were less than enthusiastic about my recruiting efforts would be a bit of an understatement.

Then too, I was in direct competition with the other branches of the service for the same pool of potential recruits. While there were (and are) minor differences among the services qualifying standards, generally speaking, if you are qualified for one, you are qualified for all. And every branch is going to be wooing you. Further, I was also in competition with the Army Reserve recruiters (they worked side by side with me in the same recruiting station) and the National Guard.

So you can see that the challenge of finding 2 qualified applicants every month was daunting. Not impossible, no, but it was pretty damn rare that I had a qualified applicant walk in ready to go. In the NYT article linked above,  Dr. Curtis Gilroy, the director of accession policy for the DoD, properly describes the All-Volunteer Force as an “all recruited force.”


Occasionally, when a recruiter was struggling to achieve his mission, he or she would lament to his superior that it was impossible in the good economy to find applicants in their catchment area. This argument was rarely met with any sympathy.

I recall a meeting at the Indianapolis War Memorial that our battalion had. Our battalion commander addressed just that argument. He reminded us that the nation’s people did not exist to serve in the Army, but rather that the Army existed to serve the nation. The whole point of the service was to help the nation achieve peace and prosperity. “If I catch you hoping for a recession, I’ll nuke you into next year!” T’was a lesson I took to heart.

More than once, I found potential recruits who were wholly qualified, but had no great desire to serve. If that young man or woman had a solid plan, they had my best wishes. Often, when you spoke to a young man or woman, they would immediately tell you, “I’m going to college.” Fair enough. But a few probing questions would soon tell you that they had no idea what they were going to college for, what they wanted to study, how that major would help them, how they planned to pay for school or pay off student loans. Those were the folks that I would recruit.

I had a dual obligation. I was of course responsible for providing recruits to the Army. But I was also responsible to the recruits. I had to do my best to make sure they understood what they were getting into and to set realistic expectations for what they could achieve and what they could expect to receive for their service. Not all my recruits were happy with their decision to enlist. But I do take pride that a great many did.

5 thoughts on “Recruiting in tough times…”

  1. I had lost my job when my wife said “The army is always looking for warm bodies.” I walked into the recruiting office and never looked back. I have found so many wonderful and smart people in the service. Far from “warm bodies”, I saw the Forrest Gump is roadkill in today’s army. As weapon systems grow more complex, soldier’s roles grow more complex. I remember what ol’ Bob Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers: “a private soldier today is a specialist so highly skilled that he would rate ‘master’ in any other trade…”

    The problem is that teachers and other educational professionals still think of the military as where “dumb people go”. One of my professors said “the army is easy, names are printed on uniforms, so you know who your are talking to.” Others look down on anything that does not involve essays. As more veterans enter the workforce times will change. Untill then, with our pop culture “question everything attitude”, the military will be viewed as a last resort.

  2. As much as technical mastery is important, young troops today are entrusted with level of responsibility far beyond anything troops had back in my day. GEN Krulak of the Marines talked about the “Strategic Corporal” in that decisions made by very junior troops could have wide ranging public/political/diplomatic consequences. A negative example of this would be the idiots at Abu Grahib, who’s terminally stupid actions tainted much of the US effort in Iraq for years.

  3. I’ve enlisted twice in the Army (well, USAR anyway). First in 1996, got out in 2003. Then, in 2005, called a recruiter on the phone and said “I want back in.” Easiest sell he ever had. Guess I’m in for the long haul now. One thing that bugs me about recruiters now is that they always wear their ACU’s like the’re about to engage in MOUT. When I first enlisted, it was always Class A’s or Class B’s. Of course, now we get to dress like bus drivers since the Army took our one good uniform and bastardized it so that it too looks like garbage.

  4. PDizzle,

    Recruiters didn’t choose which uniform to wear. But if I’d had my choice, it wouldn’t have been Class A’s or B’s. I would have gone with BDUs. Might as well be wearing what everyone else in the Army wears.

  5. I know, but it kind of sad when the Marine’s, Navy and Air Force all show up in dress uniforms but the Army is in a combat uniform with velcor all over. At least BDUs could be ironed and the boots could be shined.

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