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Army Recruiters Step Up Tactics to Meet Quotas

May 12, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


RECRUITER: You want a dog tag? It’s a custom made dog tag, man.

TOM BEARDEN: On a recent night in Chicago, Army recruiters were scouring the bleachers before a Golden Gloves boxing tournament –looking for people to join the Army.

They handed out forms to be filled out with personal information in exchange for free dog tags and a chance to win an iPod music player. Some found a receptive audience.

RECRUITER: You can go to any state school, like UI, UIC for free if you go into Army. I got 70-grand for college, I’m going to get out and they’re going to pay me to get a free education.

TOM BEARDEN: But most were greeted with skepticism…

YOUNG MAN: You all ain’t going to draft in the Army or nothin’, is y’all?

RECRUITER: No! There’s no draft in this country!

TOM BEARDEN: The military is finding out how hard it can be to attract volunteers while soldiers and Marines are dying in Iraq — more than 1600 so far. The Army alone has a yearly goal of recruiting 80,000 new people. Monthly quotas vary. In April, the number was 6,600.

TOM BEARDEN: The Army missed that quota by 42 percent. For the year, they are down 16 percent.

RECRUITER: You guys want a flag?

TOM BEARDEN: The Army Reserve, National Guard, and the Marine Corps have also missed monthly quotas, while the Air Force and Navy have met their goals.

RECRUITER: Anybody else want to fill one out? iPod raffle for Friday —

TOM BEARDEN: Col. Tom Nickerson is in charge of the Army’s recruiting outreach program.

COL. TOM NICKERSON: It’s a very tough environment. It’s the first time that we’ve recruited for the volunteer force during a protracted war, so there are some challenges.

TOM BEARDEN: Is the war the issue or is the economy a factor as well?

COL. TOM NICKERSON: I think there’s a number of things. First of all, I think there are a lot more opportunities for young Americans today than there have been in the past, a tribute, if you will, to the improving economy.

ANNOUNCER IN BOXING RING: It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the United States Army’s Chicago recruiting battalion who will be presenting our colors —

TOM BEARDEN: So the Army has stepped up efforts to spread its message by going to sporting events… and by bringing sports celebrities into schools. Recently recruiters brought Army-sponsored bull rider Mike Lee to meet adoring fans in Calhan, Colorado.

MIKE LEE: You can get something from the soldiers; you can learn something from these guys that come here to your school. They give you a new mindset on life that will make you a successful person.

RECRUITER: The Army has more than what you see or hear on the news. My career in the United States Army started back in 1973. I did not have a job; I had no focus, no direction, so I joined the Army to get that. It instilled in me discipline that stays with me today.

TOM BEARDEN: The Army is now spending nearly $100 million a year to sponsor outreach events like professional bull riding, rock concerts and NASCAR races.

They are events that typically attract crowds of young men and women who are considered most likely to be receptive to the Army sales pitch. Sgt. Major Ozell Johnson is in charge of recruiting in the Chicago area. He says these days that initial contact is the easy part.

SGT. MAJOR OZELL JOHNSON: For the most part, we found that most young men and women are really want to serve their country; however, when they get home and tell mom and dad, hey this is something I want to do, then that’s where the resistance starts.

AD SPONSORED BY U.S. ARMY (mother speaking to her son): Something good happen today?

AD SPONSORED BY U.S. ARMY (son speaking): I found someone to pay for me to go to college —

TOM BEARDEN: So the Army just released a new series of television ads aimed at what the Army calls “influencers”: parents, teachers and other adults who have influence in a young person’s life.

AD SPONSORED BY U.S. ARMY (son speaking): It’s time for me to be the man.

AD SPONSORED BY U.S. ARMY (mother speaking): Okay, tell me more.

TOM BEARDEN: The Army is using a lot of different tactics to try to meet its personnel requirements. Some 1,500 additional recruiters have been assigned. Signing bonuses for new recruits have doubled; they’re now as much as $20,000 and there’s talk of raising them even further.

RECRUITER: Have you ever thought about the Army as a viable option and as a career choice for you?

TOM BEARDEN: The maximum age of recruits has been raised to forty. And the number of high school dropouts the Army has accepted has doubled. While that particular change can boost the number of recruits in the short term, military sociologist Charles Moskos says that they will hurt the Army in the long run.

CHARLES MOSKOS: Down the road it’s going to have very, very strong negative effects to recruit people who are not qualified. And it’s a fact that the lower your education level, the more likely you are not to complete your term of enlistment, so dropping the standards is going to make the dropout rate even greater. That’s why the real market has to be looked at college graduates — something that the Defense Department has not yet paid attention to.

TOM BEARDEN: The most significant drops in recruiting has been among African Americans. In 2000, blacks made up 23-percent of all recruits; five years later, it’s 14-percent. Seventeen year old Keith Nellums, a junior at Englewood Tech Prep High School in Chicago, says he once considered military service.

KEITH NELLUMS: I really saw it as a way to get an education and get a good background. But with the war in Iraq and I was seeing how people was dying, it just scared me basically.

TOM BEARDEN: Polls indicate that African Americans overwhelmingly oppose the war. Among African American youth only 36 percent thought the war was justified, compared to 61 percent of white youths.

TOM BEARDEN: Army recruiters insist they aren’t troubled by the decline in black recruits, saying that 14 percent more accurately represents the percentage of African Americans in society at large. Even so, Army outreach into minority neighborhoods and schools like Englewood has significantly increased.

Students here say recruiters have escalated the pressure to sign on. Senior Letoya Kimbough is the battalion commander of her junior ROTC unit at Englewood.

She’s been heavily recruited by all branches of the military. She told recruiters she’s going to college first — and will then join the Navy. But the navy recruiter is still calling.

TOM BEARDEN: How often do you hear from the recruiters?

LETOYA KIMBOUGH: Almost every day he calls my house.

TOM BEARDEN: What do the recruiters say when they call your house?

LETOYA KIMBOUGH: He like tries to encourage me to change my decision, change my mind, like go into the military now instead of going to college first.

TOM BEARDEN: Some believe pressure on recruiters to meet their quotas has led to violations of Army regulations.

In Colorado, Arvada High School Senior David McSwane says he wanted to see just how desperate recruiters were so he put them to the test.

DAVID McSWANE: I was just curious, how far would they go to get one more soldier?

TOM BEARDEN: McSwane, an honors student and editorial page editor of his high school newspaper, presented himself at a local recruiting office.

DAVID McSWANE: That’s when I told him that I was a 17 year old dropout and that I have a drug addiction.

TOM BEARDEN: And what did he say?

DAVID McSWANE: He said the drug addiction wasn’t a problem, that we would cross that bridge when we come to it.

TOM BEARDEN: And what did that turn out to mean?

DAVID McSWANE: That there was a way of beating a drug test, the way he knew with this stuff that he would give me, a detox drink to pass the urinalysis to get in the Army.

TOM BEARDEN: McSwane says the recruiter took him in a government vehicle to buy the drug elimination kit and also told him how to get a fake high-school diploma.

DAVID McSWANE: What my recruiter told me to do was go on the Internet, type in fake diploma and order one off the Internet, it would need to look real, have a foil seal on it, and I would need transcripts to go along with it.

The high school name he gave me, which is imaginary, was Faith Hill Baptist School. So I did that and I brought it in and he said it was good and he gave it to his superiors and they cleared it.

TOM BEARDEN: McSwane secretly taped his phone conversations with the recruiters.

DAVID McSWANE ON TAPE: So they accepted my diploma and all that?

RECRUITER ON TAPE: Yeah, that’s what they told us, so?

DAVID McSWANE ON TAPE: All right. So they don’t know that it’s fake or anything? I’m not going to get in trouble?

RECRUITER: Right. They won’t know.

TOM BEARDEN: The Army has begun an investigation of the two soldiers involved. They have been removed from recruiting duties. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Brodeur heads Denver’s Army recruiting battalion.

TOM BEARDEN: Did these allegations come out of the blue? Were they a surprise to you?

LT. COL. JEFFREY BRODEUR: They were; they were. I would not have suspected those two recruiters, I really would not have; they are good soldiers and they present themselves as good soldiers.

TOM BEARDEN: Lt. Col Brodeur says the accused recruiters never submitted McSwane’s paperwork, and no one else had seen the diploma. The U.S. Army recruiting command acknowledges there were 320 substantiated cases of wrongdoing by recruiters last year, a 14 percent increase from 2003. The violations ranged from threats and coercion to false promises that the recruit would not be sent to Iraq.

WOMAN AT COUNTER-RECRUITING ALLY: I say that schools are for learning, not for recruiting —

TOM BEARDEN: Those critical of what they see as overly aggressive recruiting tactics have stepped up their opposition –demanding that recruiters not be given such broad access to the schools. And some school counselors and teachers like Jackson Potter at Englewood are inviting so-called counter-recruiters into their classrooms.

JACKSON POTTER: Barry Romo here is a guest speaker. He’s going to give you today a very different perspective than what you’ve heard from military recruiters, what it’s like to serve in the Army. Well, there’s a different view from people who have served and seen the death and carnage.

TOM BEARDEN: Vietnam veteran Barry Romo bluntly described his experiences.

BARRY ROMO: I blew the top of a Vietnamese man’s head off. It went in his skull and totally blew off the top of his skull. His brain was sitting there —

TOM BEARDEN: Romo went on to join Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and has been an antiwar activist ever since.

STUDENT: What advice would you give to a young man graduating out of high school, thinking about going in —

BARRY ROMO: Going into the service? Going to Iraq, I would say not to do it. You’re better off working at McDonalds and going to a community college; you’re gambling with your life and your future; you’re gambling with your personal integrity.

TOM BEARDEN: Romo told the students to be wary of recruiters making promises they wouldn’t keep.

BARRY ROMO: The Army recruiters promised us free medical care for life. But we didn’t get it in writing. Before any of you enlist, make sure everything you’re promised is there.

RECRUITER TALKING TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS: We’re just trying to give you the information on what we can offer you to get where you want to go in life.

TOM BEARDEN: Despite all of these “challenges,” as the Army calls them, the demand for new recruits is relentless. The Army goal for May is even higher than last month. Recruiters all over the country are now out pounding the pavement, looking for 8,000 new recruits to make quota.

JIM LEHRER: The Army for the first time in recent history has ordered a one-day suspension of all recruiting next Friday. The Army’s 7,500 recruiters will be lectured on what is proper to encourage people to enlist.