The Journal Editorial Report | December 17, 2004 | PBS
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Briefing and Opinion
December 17, 2004

Recruiting the Guard

For decades the Army National Guard has put up with the nickname "weekend warriors." Most members are civilians, they train one weekend per month and two weeks every summer. They are trained for what's known as combat support. For example they are the cooks, the mechanics, and communications experts. There was little threat of combat until Iraq. The big role they are now playing in Iraq is making recruitment a top priority. Correspondent Celeste Ford speaks to Army National Guardsmen, their families and Guard recruiters.

recruitmentThe National Guard has become a hard sell. This year it had the worst recruitment rate of any military branch. Two thirds of the states missed their targets, resulting in a nationwide shortfall of 12 percent. Texas is among the states exceeding their goals.

Houston Guard recruiter Sergeant Pierre Chatman says the high schools and colleges are critical resources. Before the war Chatman could count on soldiers completing their active duty, then joining the National Guard, but now many of those soldiers are forced to stay in Iraq. That means the Guard must pay special attention to young adults like Shaunreika Moten, 17. Moten enlisted to pay for college. When asked how she feels about possibly being sent to Iraq, Moten said she felt prepared. "After being in basic training for two and a half months, I'm ready. They taught me everything that I need to know out on a battle field."

Brown familyMoten's focus on college money sounds familiar to Nancy Brown of Vermont. Her 25-year-old son, Ryan, was a college junior whose tuition was paid by the National Guard. After his deployment last March, Ryan became a Humvee driver, one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq. His mother does not think he was properly trained or equipped. "He's in a convoy line and he saw people get hit in front of him, he's seen people get hit behind him," says Brown. "This isn't support -- it's warfare."

Her son reassures Brown that his Humvee is armored, but the military says several thousand Humvees still lack protection against landmines and enemy fire. The Army Chief of Staff recently told Congress about the need for Humvee armor, body armor, radios and machine guns. The issue made headlines this fall when a group of reservists refused to make a fuel delivery because their trucks had no armor and no security escort. Chief of StaffMoten was unaware of the shortages until we brought it up. "Hopefully if they call me over, they'll have everything that they need," she says.

To build up its image the National Guard is launching a $42 million marketing campaign. Look for T.V. spots, newspaper ads, even trendy t-shirts.The Guard is adding 1,400 recruiters nationwide -- a 50 percent increase and it is spending $307 million on incentives -- a 34 percent jump. These include enlistment bonuses for those with critical skills like mechanics, extra money for college and up to $20,000 to pay off student loans.

New York guardsman Paul Reickhoff returned from Iraq and founded an advocacy group, Operation Truth, for soldiers. He says poor planning over there is hurting recruitment here and the benefits can't compensate for the risk. Paul Reickhoff"When you've got over 1,100 soldiers killed and you've got over 8,000 wounded,you are going to need to get real creative on how you attract people to join that organization," says Reickhoff. "The key component is the BLOG."

Why should the public be concerned if there's a shortfall in recruitment? "Because our military as it's built right now cannot accommodate the workload. So it begs the question to talk about the draft. We have to talk about the draft. It may not be a probability but it's definitely a possibility."

In rural Vermont, soldiers say don't underestimate the power of patriotism. Many are like Sergeant Matthew Meagher who was activated last month for a mission in the Middle East. Matthew MeagherHe enlisted 17 years ago, then re-upped again in July knowing what might lie ahead for himself, his wife and their five children. "It goes to my sense of duty," says Meagher. "I wouldn't get out at a time when things are hot, just because they're hot. This is the time that they need me, now more than ever."

The question is whether there are enough people like Sergeant Meagher, at a time when benefits and incentives cannot always outweigh the risks of war.