Posted: 6/5/2008 7:50:35 AM EDT
The Army's new battle plan
Recruiters take the fight to Jersey's suburbs
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
BY WAYNE WOOLLEY
The Army's newest recruiting station in New Jersey opened last week in an upscale Bergen County strip mall with a parking lot filled with Range Rovers and BMWs.
While the sandwiches and balloons for the grand opening were arranged days before, plans for the Ramsey station were laid more than a year in advance by an armed force that's learning to conduct demographic research that would be the envy of many national retailers.
"It comes down to typical marketing stuff," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Sullivan, the commander of the recruiting battalion that covers the state's northernmost region. "Foot traffic, where we've recruited before, and where we think we have a chance for the future."
Defense analysts say the challenges of recruiting during an unpopular war have helped push the Army to identify geographic areas it believes will yield future recruits and put its resources in those places.
The shift comes as the Department of Defense has reported declining interest in serving in the military across all demographics, but particularly among African-Americans. In 2001, nearly a quarter of the Army's new recruits were black, a figure that had held steady for decades. In the last fiscal year, African-Americans made up about 15 percent of recruits.
The trend has been borne out in New Jersey as well.
Between 2004 and 2007, the percentage of Army recruits who were black decreased in 15 of the state's 21 counties, according to the National Priorities Project, an entity that collects government data. Two counties, Atlantic and Bergen, posted slight increases. In two other counties, Hunterdon and Sussex, the Army landed no African-American recruits in those years.
Over that period, though, the percentage of white recruits increased in nearly every county in New Jersey, according to Department of Defense statistics.
It was during this shift a year ago that the Army closed its six-man recruiting station in downtown Paterson and moved those six recruiters to suburban Little Falls.
"In Paterson, the demographic had changed and it had become less profitable for us," Entwistle said.
But the Army was having success recruiting in the suburbs that surrounded the city.
So the Army conducted what it calls a "positioning analysis and evaluation." It's an in-depth marketing demographic survey that determines such things as income, unemployment rate and the number of qualified military people in the area.
"They analyze all this and it tells them what the theoretical enlistment potential could be in the area," Entwistle said.
If the potential is there, the Army moves forward scouting locations with potential for high foot traffic, safety and reasonable lease terms. The Army Corps of Engineers then takes over lease negotiations for the recruiting command.
The result of this most recent effort was the Ramsey office, which is in the Triangle 17 Shopping Plaza off Route 17, the region's main artery. The office adds six additional recruiters to the region.
It's also in the heart of an area that's solidly middle and upper middle class. The average household income in Ramsey was $132,000 in 2005.
"We, as an Army, are solidly middle class -- surprisingly middle class," said Sullivan, the commander of the recruiting battalion.
Department of Defense statistics generally reflect that.
A study by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, found that three-quarters of military recruits in 2003 come from households with income brackets ranging from $40,000 through $200,000. (Middle-class figures in most regions of the country.) The remaining 20 percent came from poorer households and a small portion from those over $200,000.
On a recent day, one of the newest prospects at the station was Maureen Hennecke, a 20-year-old Ramapo College student from Fair Lawn. After two years of college on a scholarship to play volleyball, she's decided that college isn't for her right now. She wants to be an Army MP. Always has.
She's what the Army considers a prized "Tier I recruit," an athletic high school graduate with some college.
Hennecke had come to the station with her mother and father in hopes that meeting her recruiter would make them feel better. Her mother, Eileen, conceded the possibility of seeing her daughter go off to war "was beyond scary."
Her father, Rudy, a Fair Lawn police officer, said he was proud of his daughter for the months of research she'd put into her search for the right military branch and right job.
"She's worked to check everything out, so we're behind her no matter what she decides," he said.
Hopefully this means that the recruiters have finally wised up to the fact that signing up gangbangers and felons (both being pieces of shit) on moral waivers is a bad idea.