The Military’s View of Counter-recruitment
Seth Kershner -
Over the past few years, my colleague Scott Harding and I have been chronicling the counter-recruitment movement from the perspective of activists. In this article, I’ll take a different approach and focus on counter-recruitment as viewed by military recruiters. Although it takes a bit of work to find out what they think, military recruiters’ candid views on counter-recruitment reveal that many are concerned at the success of activist campaigns. There’s a strategic advantage to knowing where military recruiters’ vulnerabilities lie, for they give us a peek at the soft underbelly of the all-volunteer force and may suggest areas where counter-recruiters could focus more of their resources. And when military officers spend the time to write reports investigating counter-recruitment — even naming specific groups like Project YANO — activists should consider this a badge of honor. You’re rattling their cage a bit, forcing recruiters to regroup and rethink their strategy. Even though they’ve got all the money and power in this lopsided struggle, you’re getting into their heads.
It’s important to start by noting that we learn relatively little by looking at what military recruiters say in public. In press interviews, the military has tried to play down the impact of counter-recruitment. In 2003, for example, the director of JROTC for public schools in Washington, D.C. told the City Paper that a local counter-recruiter, John Judge, “doesn’t affect us much. . . . People who are with us, who are patriotic, aren’t paying attention to what he has to say.” However, sometimes recruiters let their guard down. In 2006, the Army’s Austin Recruiting Company missed their target by four percent; one year later the company commander told the Austin American-Statesman that “it has become increasingly difficult to recruit in Austin schools because of a strong ‘counter-recruitment’ movement.”
That the military is genuinely worried about counter-recruitment is evident. Sometimes local recruiting resources are devoted to “game-planning” for the presence of a counter-recruitment group. Back in the 1990s a recruiter told Rick Jahnkow that Project YANO was regularly discussed in the training sessions for San Diego recruiters. More recently, Seattle-area activists have heard that recruiters were paying close attention to the actions of their group, Washington Truth in Recruiting.
On a national level, over the past ten years we have seen a steady flow of reports from high-ranking military officers. These reports attempt to analyze the counter-recruitment movement and offer guidance to recruiters on the best ways to respond to these “adversaries” in their midst.
A report titled “Counter-recruiters in High School” appeared in 2006 and bore the byline of Capt. Linda Long, United States Marine Corps. Produced during Capt. Long’s time at the USMC Command Staff College, this report describes counter-recruitment as “by far the military recruiter’s greatest obstacle” because it challenges “the military’s ability to meet its annual recruiting goals by staging anti-recruitment demonstrations on high school and college campuses across America.”
Capt. Long’s report was meant to serve as an introduction to the movement and contained more judgments about activists’ integrity than useful recommendations. But in each of the past three years, more substantial reports have emerged that deserve our attention. In 2010, Lt. Col. Todd M. Jacobus penned a report titled “Civilian Organizational Inhibitors to U.S. Army Recruiting and the Road Ahead.”There is, first, the question of why he chose fourteen syllables when four (“activist groups”) would’ve done just fine. But I digress. Lt. Col. Jacobus’ intention with this report is: 1) to describe selected CR organizations (including IVAW, Veterans for Peace, and others), 2) to subject the claims of these groups to critical scrutiny, and 3) to suggest ways that recruiters can challenge counter-recruiters on their facts and interpretations. On this last point, the author claims that one way to challenge the counter-recruiting message about women in the military is to remind students that “in terms of sexual assaults against women, there is no place that is more dangerous than a college campus.” Not surprisingly, there’s no footnote attached to that claim. He also suggests that the most powerful weapon counter-recruiters have at their disposal is the military veteran. The word of the veteran “carries considerable weight” and “veteran organizations who deliver a counter-recruiting message” will enjoy “automatic credibility” with their audience. So, counter-recruiting groups at the local level will get more bang for their buck if they find ways to involve veterans.
Although it deals with counter-recruitment only in passing, a few pages from a 2011 Strategy Research Report, “Recruiting the Future Force: A Proactive Approach,” will boost the pride of counter-recruiters everywhere. According to its author, Col. Randy Smith, counter-recruitment effectively “diminishes the number of schools conducting ASVAB testing.” He names Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as places where these campaigns have “had some success.” He goes on to say that the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test should be made mandatory for all public school students (good luck with that!), and ASVAB release Option 8, which withholds test data from recruiters, should be eliminated.
Finally, the ASVAB thread was picked up in a report prepared last year for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. It’s titled “Why Schools Do Not Release ASVAB Scores to Military Recruiters.” The author of this report (which is discussed at length by Paula Hoffman-Villanueva in the July-September issue of Draft NOtices) expresses concern with the success of “advocacy groups” like the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy. One of the report’s conclusions is that counter-recruitment efforts have contributed to the steep increase in the number of schools selecting Option 8 on the ASVAB.
There are at least three things counter-recruiters can take away from these reports. First, the “fragile existence” of the all-volunteer force (in the words of Col. Smith) opens up opportunities for counter-recruiters. Counter-recruiters could therefore choose to direct more of their attention to the vulnerabilities identified in these reports, particularly the declining popularity of the ASVAB.
Second, it appears that one of the main threats posed by counter-recruiters is their mere presence in schools. To quote one of the reports, the goal of the Army is to “provide an unobstructed conduit into the decision making cycles of those who represent the next generation of America’s Army.” In other words, recruiters want to have a monologue with America’s youth. Counter-recruiters’ power, therefore, lies in their ability to create space for a dialogue by asking uncomfortable questions and pointing out inconsistencies in the recruiters’ sales pitch.
Third, there appears to be an evolving recognition by the military that recruiters need to directly confront their “adversaries.” This marks a dramatic shift away from past approaches, which consisted of recruiters avoiding direct confrontation with counter-recruiters. Think of the Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) campaign against Army Cinema Vans in the mid-1990s. After getting the vans’ schedules from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, WAMM activists in Minnesota showed up to picket at high schools whenever the recruiting trucks paid a visit. The following year the Army left Minnesota off its itinerary.
Does this shift mean we’re getting to them? Perhaps. But if counter-recruiters receive fleeting recognition from the military for their campaign successes, they cannot afford to sit on their laurels. Recruiters are studying the movement only as a way of trying to vanquish their foe. Their goal, after all, is to be the only voice youth hear on the question of military service.
“Uncle Scram,” by Brian Montopoli, City Paper (Washington, D.C.), January 31, 2003. Available at http://tinyurl.com/pvuy22t.
“Military May Face Barrier at School,” by Gerry Smith, Austin American-Statesman, March 5, 2007. Found in the Lexis-Nexis database.
“Counter-recruiters in High School,” by Linda Long, United States Marine Corps, Command Staff College, Marine Corps University, 2006. Available at http://tinyurl.com/ndyb9he.
“Civilian Organizational Inhibitors to U.S. Army Recruiting and the Road Ahead,” by Todd M. Jacobus, U.S. Army War College, 2010. Available at http://tinyurl.com/neq8f4u.
“Recruiting the Future Force: A Proactive Approach,” by Randy Smith, U.S. Army War College, 2011. Available at http://tinyurl.com/npwzqvt.
“Why Schools Do Not Release ASVAB Scores to Military Recruiters,” by Gregory V. Humble (Master’s thesis), U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2012. Available at http://tinyurl.com/o4dfxez.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/).
Seth Kershner is a reference and instruction librarian at Northwestern Connecticut Community College.