Recruiters charged with finding recruits

By David Showers

featur Since the end of compulsory military service in 1973, an all-volunteer force has been tasked with maintaining the country’s military commitments at home and abroad.

According to the Pentagon’s National Defense Budget Estimate for fiscal year 2010, more than 1.4 million people comprise the active-duty military with more than 844,000 on reserve duty. Without conscription, the onus for maintaining those numbers has fallen to recruiters.

“There’s people getting in and getting out every day,” said Chief Petty Officer Tim Lavachek of the Navy’s Public Affairs office in Nashville, Tenn. “There’s unexpected losses, and we try to fill those gaps.”

The revolving door notwithstanding, Lavachek said the Navy has been able to maintain its force of more than 329,000. In fact, it’s doing land-office business.

“We exceeded our recruiting quota by 500 percent in 2009,” Lavachek said. “We’re still in the mode of turning people away. … A lot of people have been coming into our offices the last nine months.”

But it still takes some convincing to get recruits to sign an enlistment contract. With wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many potential recruits have reservations about enlisting.

Lavachek said the Navy’s support role helps allay those concerns. Only a select few seamen will be deployed to a forward area.

“It’s hard to get people in, especially young people out of high school,” he said. “Their parents don’t want them to join the military. They don’t want them to go to the sandbox. They don’t want them to go to Afghanistan, which is totally understandable.

“We tell them that unless they’re a SEAL, they’ll spend most of their time on a ship.”

Lavachek said recruiters’ pay isn’t tied to the number of people they enlist. They’re paid according to their rank and years of service. Recruiters are given quotas to fill for specific job categories every month and can issue bonuses based on a job’s level of demand.

The Navy reserves its biggest bonuses for SEALs, the special combat unit trained for sea, air and land commando operations. Bonus pay for a SEAL can reach as high as $40,000, Lavachek said.

The Military Authorization Act for fiscal year 2006 authorized the services to increase the maximum active-duty enlistment bonus cap from $20,000 to $40,000. Each of the services sets their enlistment bonuses based on their own recruiting needs.

A $12,000 bonus is the highest authorized by the Air Force, with $6,000 being the highest for the Marine Corps. The Army can offer up to $40,000.

Base pay for entry-level personnel in each branch of service is $1,447.20 per month, according the Military Authorization Act of 2010. The monthly salary reflects a 3.4 percent increase in military basic pay over 2009 levels.

Increasing base pay and enlistment bonuses, coupled with a flagging job market, have helped recruiters fill their quotas, but their job is still difficult.

Capt. Daniel Ciccarelli, the commander for the Fort Smith Recruiting Company, said most people who are currently unemployed aren’t eligible for military service.

He said eligibility restrictions disqualify a large number of candidates. Save an exemption, 42 is the maximum age for Army enlistment. For Air Force it’s 27, Navy 34 and Marines 28. A minimum score of 31 on the Armed Services Vocational Battery is also necessary for consideration. And with more than 547,000 active-duty members in the Army, replenishing its ranks is a more onerous task than that confronting recruiters from other branches of the Armed Forces.

“In this economy, everyone thinks that it should be easy to fill your (quota),” said Ciccarelli, who oversees 39 recruiters across western Arkansas. “In our area, unemployment is not that high, and most people who are losing their jobs are older.

“… We can’t put people in with GEDs, except when we get an exemption every few months. And there are a lot of people who can’t pass the physical. It’s frustrating. We have enough people to make our (quota), but so many of them can’t join for one reason or another.”

Recruiters In High School

The military has become as commonplace at high school career fairs as colleges and universities. Its more conspicuous profile is a function of the No Child Left Behind Act. Ratified in 2002, the sweeping legislation requires public secondary schools to provide “military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post-secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students.”

Rep. David Vitter, R-La., sponsored the recruitment requirement in the 670-page piece of legislation. His impetus was a Pentagon study that identified 19,228 occasions in 1999 where recruiters were denied access to schools. Vitter said those schools “demonstrated an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive.”

Schools that fail to comply risk a cutoff of all federal aid. In addition to physical access, the legislation obliges schools to make student information, such as names, phone numbers and addresses, available to the military. That information is catalogued in the military’s Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies Database.

Lavachek and Ciccarelli said the database is helpful, but it hasn’t replaced the tried-and-true approach of making personal contacts with potential recruits.

“It’s always helpful to get names, phone numbers and addresses,” Ciccarelli said. “But if you attempt to get a hold of 100 people, you might get 10 contacts. Out of those 10, you might get one to come in for a visit.”

Students can keep their information confidential.

Alan Wilbourn, the public information officer for Fayetteville Public Schools, said Fayetteville High students have 30 days from the start of school to complete an opt-out form, which keeps their information private.

Opt-out forms are available at the school’s open house and are also in the student handbook. Announcements informing students of the opt-out forms are made during the first month of school. He said calls are also made to students’ homes to tell them about the opt-out forms.

The Springdale School District hews to a similar policy.

“We send letters home to all parents as far as keeping information private is concerned,” said Rick Schaeffer, the district’s director of communications. “They are given the option to prevent us from giving personal information about their students to anyone, including colleges and military. Any parent who wants no information given to anyone must sign such a request.”

Read The Fine Print

Recruiters have quotas to fill, but Lavachek said they don’t persist when someone isn’t interested in joining the military.

“We’re not going to force it down their throat,” he said. “… If I’m going after someone who says, ‘I’ll join the Navy if you just stop bugging me.’ That’s not the attitude we want. This is a big decision. It’s not like going to the lemon lot and buying a used car. It’s four to six years of their life.”

The actual commitment is eight years. Paragraph 10A of the Department of Defense Form 4/1, the contract for military enlistments and re-enlistments, states: “If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a reserve component unless I am sooner discharged.”

After their four-year active-duty commitment has been satisfied, members of the Armed Services are transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve for the next four years. The military can call them back to active duty at any time during that period. It can also involuntarily assign them to an active-reserve unit during that time. The eight-year service commitment applies to active-duty enlistees as well as Reserves or National Guard enlistees.

There’s also the stop-loss provision, which Democratic nominee John Kerry called the “backdoor draft” during the 2004 Presidential election. The provision can extend enlistments beyond the eight-year period. The DOD’s Form 4/1 articulates the stop-loss provision. It states: “In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six months after the war ends, unless the enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States.”

Tod Ensign, a veteran’s rights lawyer and director of Citizen-Soldier, a nonprofit GI and veterans’ right advocacy group based in New York City, has railed against what he says are the duplicitous practices of military recruiters.

“They are clever, and they have a very clever system” Ensign said of recruiters. “It’s almost insidious how they manipulate and trick people. … That’s how they work. It’s no wonder so many kids get ensnared.”

Most recruits start the enlistment process by signing a delayed-entry contract, promising to report for active duty on a specific date in the future. Ensign said recruits can still opt out of their commitment after signing the delayed-entry contract. He explained that recruits aren’t obligated until they take the second oath of duty on their reporting day at the Military Entrance Processing Station.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road in recruiting,” he said. “No contract means anything until it’s signed and executed by the MEPS commander.”

The Hometown Recruiting Assistance Program is another practice Ensign takes exception to. It allows enlistees to return home after basic training, essentially giving them extra leave time. They spend that time selling the military to potential recruits in their community.

Pvt. William Long of Conway was part of the program when he was shot and killed outside of a Little Rock army recruiting office last June.

“Eighteen-year-old boys are very insecure and easily influenced by their peers,” Ensign said. “They see their buddy, Jimmy, back from basic training and see that he’s standing tall and looking good. They say, ‘Jimmy’s got himself together.’

“They talk about military life, but they know nothing about it. They just got out of basic training.”

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