Pat Elder | Counter-Recruit Press | July 2017
In 2012 the American Public Health Association, (APHA), one of the country’s foremost health organizations and publisher of the influential American Journal of Public Health, adopted a policy statement calling for the cessation of military recruiting in public elementary and secondary schools.
APHA demands the elimination of the No Child Left Behind Act requirement that high schools both be open to military recruiters and turn over contact information on all students to recruiters and eliminating practices that encourage military recruiters to approach adolescents in US public high schools to enlist in the military services.1
APHA identifies several compelling public health reasons in calling for the cessation of military recruiting in the public schools. Most importantly, they argue that adolescents experience limitations in judging risk at this stage in life and they are unable to fully evaluate the consequences of making a choice to enter the military. The pre-eminent health organization points to the greater likelihood that the youngest soldiers will experience increased mental health risks, including stress, substance abuse, anxiety syndromes, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide.
According to APHA,
Military recruiters engage in aggressive behaviors to gain the trust of youth that are inappropriate, according to psychologists. For example, recruiting behaviors observed in schools can be characterized as “the process by which a child is befriended…in an attempt to gain the child’s confidence and trust, enabling [the recruiter] to get the child to acquiesce.” Another definition notes the importance of being “exceptionally Military Recruiting In The United States 35 charming and/or helpful” while “failing to honor clear boundaries. Youth are more likely to heed the overtures of these uniformed predators during difficult economic times. Conversely, it’s a lot tougher for recruiters to parlay their psychological advantage into enlistment agreements when the US economy, especially the employment picture, is doing well.
Falling unemployment rates translate to tough times for military recruiting, although we rarely hear the recruiting command acknowledge the impact of economic conditions on their trade. This would imply that youth choose the military as a last resort when they feel they have no other options. Instead, Pentagon spin masters cite a litany of reasons why Johnny isn’t signing up.
U.S. Unemployment Rate by Year
January 1, 2010 9.8%
January 1, 2011 9.2%
January 1, 2012 8.3%
January 1, 2013 8.0%
January 1, 2014 6.6%
January 1, 2015 5.7%
January 1, 2016 4.9%
- Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2
According to Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky from 2013 to 2015, all military services have seen an “erosion of willingness” from schools to let military recruiters in to talk to young people. It’s a claim that can’t be substantiated by press reports and it’s eerily reminiscent of the year 2000 when similar economic conditions were prevalent and the recruiting command made the same kind of largely unfounded accusations. Batschelet’s calculated rhetoric is directed to bolster congressional support for the continued militarization of the public schools and a lessening of restrictions placed on the movements of recruiters. It is reprehensible.
In a sense, the Army Recruiting Commander had been crying uncle. For instance, during the Recruiting 2020 Forum at RAND Corporation in September, 2014, top Defense officials and civilian professionals discussed the challenges facing Army recruiting. An exasperated Batschelet remarked, “The supply of qualified men and women who are inclined to serve in the Army continues to decline. I believe supply is inadequate to demand and we must change our national strategy to maintain an all-volunteer force.”3
These are tough times for the recruiting command.
For the first 10 months of fiscal year 2015, the Army was down by 14% in the number of recruits compared to the year before. During that period recruiters made more than 415,000 appointments with young men and women interested in the Army. Those resulted in just over 50,000 signing up to serve. For the same period in 2014, they made 371,000 appointments and had signed up 52,000 soldiers.4
A two-day ‘Wargames’ event in Northern Virginia held in June of 2015 brought together Silicon Valley experts and Pentagon officials to address DoD worries regarding recruiting and retention. Not only is the Pentagon grappling to address projected overall shortages in manpower, but the advancements in technology and the way wars are expected to be fought are revolutionizing the demands of the job and necessitating the recruitment of higher skilled soldiers or at least those who can be more easily trained to perform high tech tasks. Brad Carson, Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, told Military Times,
We don’t know who the most talented officers and enlisted personnel are. We don’t track them over time. We don’t make any special effort to retain them. And we don’t ensure that for every job in the military or on the civilian side, that we understand what talents are necessary for success.5
The Pentagon recognizes the demand for tech-savvy soldiers but it’s heading in the opposite direction by relaxing its adherence to minimum scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Incredibly, it fails to find, train, and keep the best man for each job. It’s deeply ironic that the thrust of the Army’s recruitment pitch promises training in more than 150 different career paths. “As an active duty soldier, you will have access to all of them. Choose from jobs in art, science, intelligence, combat, aviation, engineering, law and more. There is no limit to what you can achieve.”6
The same problems occur in the Navy which has a kind of “conveyor belt” approach to promotions rather than tracking individual skill sets to match the right sailor to an appropriate occupation. The Navy says it is pursuing a new approach.7
Of course, you’ll never hear recruiters tell a potential recruit that the military won’t value his individual talents nor will it challenge him to perform to the extent of his abilities. It’s the antithesis of being all you can be. Instead, the Army Recruiter Handbook lists several ways for recruiters to apply pressure on high school seniors, including this suggestion, “John, the career field you’re looking for isn’t always open. I think there are a few slots left. Why don’t we schedule you for your physical on Thursday or Friday?”8
The military must move to a system that rewards talent with promotions rather than relying on ‘time-in-grade requirements’ as Carson puts it. Soldiers are bored. They’re suffering -- and their message of misery is filtering to potential recruits: “Don’t do it.”
Just 1% of young people are both “eligible and inclined to have conversation” with the military about possible service, according to the Defense Department.9
All of the military branches together enlist about 200,000 into the active forces yearly. There are 34 million Americans in the 17 to 24 age bracket, considered to be prime recruiting age by the Pentagon so one out of every 189 in that age bracket joins.
When military recruiting gets tough the brass prefers to blame a host of familiar scapegoats. The schools are unfriendly. Parents are unsupportive. There is an increasing number of youth who have tattoos on the neck or head above the lines of T-shirt. They have ear gauges. Too many are addicted to prescription drugs. They’re obese in record numbers. They can’t pass a simple enlistment test. Graduation rates are declining. Too many have criminal arrest records. The 17 to 24 age group is a shrinking population pool. etc., etc.
The recruiting command has its lackeys who throw out terribly misleading information to explain why the military can’t find enough recruits. For instance, Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (USAF-Ret.), executive vice president of the rabidly right wing Family Research Council says all the services are struggling.
[But] what has happened since 2008 are the radical programs that have been implemented by this administration – to include the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ women in front-line units, transgender [policies], budget cuts,” he cited.” Boykin thinks religious liberty is the number-one factor for why recruitment is down. 10
The U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command has always preferred to steer the conversation away from the obvious -- that fewer want to join because they have better options that don’t carry the risk of getting killed or disabled for life. Meanwhile, increasingly attractive civilian options allow youth to retain their personal freedom. This generation of potential recruits is less likely to want to endure the physical and mental hardships required of soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Army is likely to shrink to its smallest numbers since before WWII. Already, the Army has reduced its FY 2016 active- duty recruiting goal to 62,000, down from about 80,000 per year during the height of the Iraq War. 11 Nonetheless, it’s still a tough sell for recruiters.
The Army may be needing fewer recruits because it expects to draw down in size from 490,000 to 450,000 by the end of fiscal 2018. If sequestration continues, the Army is expected to shrink further to about 420,000 Soldiers.12 With all of this in play the Army still has difficulty filling its ranks.
On April 17, 2014, after years of economic stagnation, about when the US economy began showing real growth, the New York Times ran a story, “Industrial Output Climbs, and New-Home Starts Tick Up” that documented a robust American economy. The article cited stronger than anticipated industrial production and increased output at the nation’s factories, mines and utilities. The story reported positive figures on retail sales and employment in painting an upbeat picture of the economy at the end of the first quarter.13
On the same day, in an uncharacteristically candid statement, Jessica Wright, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Generally, a slow economy makes recruiting less challenging, and operates to the advantage of those who are hiring, including the U.S. military.” The positive recruiting environment could be coming to an end, she said, if the economy demonstrates “signs of economic improvement.”14
Two years later, signs of economic improvement have continued, raising fears the Pentagon will mislead Congress and national and local education officials in an effort to further open the high schools to a military presence.
Keep in mind, too, that the Pentagon faces deeply entrenched cultural barriers. According to the recruiting command, most parents, teachers, counselors, and similar authority figures who influence decisions about enlisting in the military generally don’t recommend military service.15
Of course, economic activity is cyclical in nature, as are the Pentagon’s policy machinations reacting to deteriorating or improving recruiting conditions. A positive economic climate is likely to cause the recruiting command to turn to more non-HS diploma “Tier II” enlistments and increased waivers for criminal history. A better economy may cause the military to resort to healthy signing bonuses, an increased number of medical waivers, and an uptick in fraudulent enlistments.
The pressures to rely on substandard recruits to fill the ranks is somewhat relieved by the largely unfettered access to children recruiters enjoy in the nation’s high schools. Access to the high schools represents the ultimate treasure trove of potential recruits. Whether the pressures on the recruiting command deteriorate during robust economic periods or they improve due to lessened manpower needs, the military always seeks greater access to the schools.
On January 1, 2000, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stood at 4.00%, the lowest figure since 1971. It has never been that low since. These were extraordinarily lean days for recruiters. 9/11 hadn’t happened and military spending had been flat for most of the 1990’s. Discussions of a “Peace Dividend” still reverberated throughout academic circles.
The Pentagon fixed its crosshairs on the high schools, either fabricating statistics or embracing data they knew was faulty to justify unprecedented recruiter access to high school children.
In 2000 Congress passed a law requiring high schools to guarantee physical recruiter access to children and to provide directory information. If a request for this access were denied by school officials, the law directed branches to send an official to meet with the representatives from the school district. If, after a meeting, such access continued to be denied, the services were to notify state officials and request access. Should the denial of access continue, the Secretary of Defense was instructed to notify the Secretary of Education. If the Secretary of Defense determined that that access was denied to at least two of the military services Congress would be notified.16
The implementation of these draconian policies followed a bogus claim from the Pentagon that recruiters across the country had been routinely and systematically refused access to high school students. According to a story on July 6, 2000 in the Tampa Tribune, a mouthpiece for the Pentagon, “Easier Access for Military Recruiters,” “Approximately 2,000 public high schools have policies that bar military recruiters from one or more services, and high schools barred recruiters more than 19,000 times last year.”17
The Pentagon has never released data to substantiate this outrageous claim and it cannot be verified by the public record. Based largely on these assertions, Congress amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 2001 to require local educational institutions, upon request, to provide physical recruiter access to children, along with their names, addresses, and phone numbers. During floor debate in the House, Rep. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) repeated the claim of the Pentagon that 2,000 schools nationally ban recruiters from school grounds. When such figures were thrown out to House committee members no one present challenged them and no documentation was provided. It had also been claimed that 25% of all high schools refused to provide student directory information to recruiters, yet when the military was trying to regain access to student lists in the 1990’s in San Diego, recruiters claimed that only two school districts west of the Mississippi wouldn’t release the lists.18
In June of 2001, The Palm Center, a public policy group “in the areas of gender, sexuality, and the military”, attempted to exploit the claim that 2,000 high schools closed their doors to military recruiters, arguing that the “gay ban” was detrimental to recruitment efforts because “many high schools refuse to cooperate with the military as long as the Pentagon continues to fire gay and lesbian service members.”
According to a June 1, 2001 press release by the Palm Center, “Alan Dowd, former Associate Editor of The American Legion Magazine, says high schools denied military recruiters access to their campuses on 19,228 separate occasions in 1999 (the last year for which figures were available), in part as an effort to “challenge the Pentagon’s policy on homosexuals in the military.” A professional staff member of the House Armed Services Committee, which recently conducted a nationwide review of school recruitment efforts, confirmed that each service of the military maintains its own list of roughly two to three thousand schools that limit or prohibit access to recruiters on campus.”19
It’s inconceivable that 2,000 American high schools closed their doors to military recruiters in 1999.
In reality, military recruiters have always enjoyed tremendous access to high school kids and even more so since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The law provides that “Each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall 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.”20 Fourteen years later the military enjoys unprecedented access to high school youth that far exceeds the “same access” mandated in the law.
Note: Chapter sources are available in the book version of this text.
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to prohibit the automatic release of student information to military recruiting services from the nation's high schools. He is also creator of the website Counter-Recruit.org, which documents the deceptive practices used by the US military to recruit students into the armed forces.