March 21, 2005
With 2 months of missed goals, nervous parents and skeptical youth, the Corps is navigating a rough recruiting road
By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer
It had become so automatic.
Every month for almost 10 years, Marine recruiters trawled the nation’s high schools and shopping centers, quietly and without complaint, signing up enough applicants to claim recruiting victory.
And each month, as the Corps put another feather in its cap, the win reaffirmed the belief that hard work, dogged determination and Marine know-how would always carry the day for recruiting.
But now it’s a new day.
After making its recruiting goals since 1996 — and watching other services’ recruiting efforts falter over the years — it’s the Corps’ turn to sweat.
Recruiters met 94 percent of their February contracting goal, missing by 192 applicants. In January, recruiters fell 84 applicants short, signing up 3,270 enlistees by the end of the month.
Though recruiters have fallen short of their contracting goal, they are exceeding their goals for the number of enlistees who actually ship to boot camp, Marine officials said.
The Army, too, is tripping up. The Army Reserve missed its recruiting goal the past two months, and the active Army missed its February goal, achieving 73 percent of its target of 7,050 enlistees.
Corps officials are quick to point out that recruiting has been a success story for years as they note that the “bumps in the road” the last two months don’t — by themselves — spell doom.
“Let’s keep it in context when we’re talking about just how big this alleged iceberg is out there,” Lt. Gen. Jan Huly, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations, told reporters March 10.
The Corps is having a tough time recruiting for a number of reasons, said Huly, a former commanding general of the Western Recruiting Region in San Diego.
It’s not necessarily concern over dying in Iraq that is causing the drop in recruiting, he said. Much of the problem comes from Marines opting for a combat tour in Iraq over recruiting duty, decreasing the number of recruiters on the street. Indeed, manpower officials reportedly had trouble staffing most of their special duty assignments, including embassy guards, drill instructors, combat instructors and recruiters.
Huly said the recruiting program has since been “tightened” and more recruiters have been assigned around the country. Officials hope to have a total of 2,650 recruiters on the street at any one time beginning in 2006. The Corps recruits about 39,000 active and Reserve enlistees each year.
Bad weather during January and February also likely contributed to the recruiting shortages, Huly said, adding that recruiting in the winter and spring months is traditionally the most challenging.
Add to that a chill in the attitudes of parents, who are generally more protective of their children than they used to be. Media coverage of the war in Iraq only exacerbates the trend. Now, before applicants agree to enlist, they tell recruiters they’ll have to also convince their parents.
“It’s taking longer,” said Col. John Dunn, commander of the 9th Marine Corps District in Kansas City, Mo., whose district has made mission the last several months despite the overall drop. Recruiters are having to cast a wider net as a result, he said.
“You have to talk to more people than you did a year ago,” he said.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they see the problem getting worse before it gets better. The downturn in recruiting could have been easily predicted, said Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y.
“There were a lot of signs that people felt they were being overworked, but they weren’t heeded,” said McHugh, speaking of the recruiting woes in both the Army and Marine Corps. “Now, the word is out on the street that if you join the military, you are going to be overworked and overstressed.”
Recruiters themselves could have a lot to say about being overworked. Marines on recruiting duty work an average of 70 hours a week, including weekends, and can really only count on Christmas off, said one senior enlisted Marine who has worked in and out of recruiting for years.
“This is without a doubt one of the hardest duties in the world because there is no daily routine,” he said. “Every day is different and proposes new obstacles. With that said, the recruiters get burned out.”
Many former and current recruiters say it’s time for the Corps to better embrace a “work-smarter-rather-than-harder” approach to recruiting. That includes harnessing such technology as broadband Internet access to conduct background checks of potential applicants and to mine other data, a convenience most recruiters from other services take for granted. Others say more time off would help keep recruiters motivated.
Not everyone is hurting. Marine Corps officials pointed to one substation in Pensacola, Fla., that made its mission in January — and then some.
Five recruiters and a staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge at the substation made their mission of signing up 12 enlistees in January in only 20 days. That left them enough time to sign up six more by the end of the month. In all, they met 150 percent of their goal.
Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery McKenney, Pensacola’s staff NCOIC, took his recruiters out for a late breakfast at a Waffle House restaurant before hitting a local golf course to celebrate their win.
To keep the Corps’ recruiting engine going, McKenney says the Corps must continue to fill the ranks of recruiting duty with motivated Marines who know the challenges and also understand they’ll have to give 110 percent to get the job done.
But that hard work will pay off, said McKenney, 32, from Arab, Ala., who credits recruiting duty to the fact that he pinned gunnery sergeant on in nine years.
“There are factors that affect us, and we as Marines have to deal with it,” he said. “It’s part of our job.”
March 21, 2005
Recruiter finds that parents often are the biggest obstacle
By Joseph R. Chenelly
Times staff writer
Relaxed for the moment, the recruiter pulls his government vehicle into a parking lot to pick up a 20-year-old potential recruit.
The stocky young man stands on the curb wearing a half-unbuttoned white dress shirt with yellow stains. He still has an apron from work tied around his waist. He pulls the car door open with force, flops onto the velour-covered front seat and flicks the green pine air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror.
“Ready to meet my mom?” the young man asks with a grin. “She said she’s ready to meet you.”
“Of course,” the recruiter replies, stepping on the accelerator even before the passenger door slams shut. “I’m always ready to meet mothers.”
The recruiter, the young man and his mother agreed to be observed on the condition that they would not be identified.
A recruiter’s work environment is so “intense” that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command has barred recruiting stations from allowing journalists to shadow their soldiers in action now and for the foreseeable future, according to Doug Smith, a command spokesman at Fort Knox, Ky.
Longer hours, more days of the week. Dealing with parents who believe the Army wants to send their children to a certain death. That is what at least some recruiters regularly endure.
“I’ve been recruiting for six years, and it is tougher right now than at any other point I can remember,” said the staff sergeant, a recruiter in central Virginia. “We’re adapting to the new environment, but that means starting earlier and ending later. Not to mention working Sundays now.”
Statistics he keeps show he now has to make face-to-face contact with potential recruits three times more often than just two years ago to get them to enlist.
“The biggest obstacle to getting a young guy to enlist is usually his parents,” the recruiter said. “If I can get a parent to agree that joining is a good idea, then I almost always have the kid.”
Two weeks earlier, at work at a local grocery store, the young man was caught eyeing the recruiter’s uniform. “I just asked him if he wanted one of his own,” the staff sergeant recalled.
“He said he did but didn’t want to go to Iraq. Like a lot of the guys we put in, he comes from a single-parent household. His paycheck helps support his mother and little sister, so he’s worried about who would take care of them if he is hurt or killed in Iraq.”
The young man’s mother, who baby-sits for cash in her home during the day and works at the same grocery store as her son in the evenings, doesn’t come to the door when the recruiter and potential recruit enter. They wade past several toys for toddlers, a baby swing and other evidence of the mother’s day job. She sits at a wooden dining table in the living room. Her jet black hair is in a single ponytail, falling past her shoulders. Her relatively young face bears no makeup or emotion.
Pushing aside papers, she avoids eye contact while offering a seat to the uniformed soldier. She looks at her son, smiles and says, “It is a sharp outfit.”
The three settle around the table and the young man speaks first.
“My mom has to be OK with this before I go anywhere,” the young man tells his recruiter, catching the staff sergeant off guard. “We’re tight, and I don’t want to do something this serious unless she is good with it.”
The staff sergeant audibly sucks in his breath, but gets right to work. Reaching down to a bag by his feet, he pulls out a thick binder he hadn’t planned to use that afternoon. “Absolutely,” says the staff sergeant, looking directly at the mother, “it is very important for everyone involved to understand why this is in [the young man]’s best interest.”
The recruiter talks about the son learning job skills and getting practical experience, about a steady paycheck and about learning to live on his own. The mother listens, arms folded, nodding from time to time, for nearly an hour. Her eyes well up and redden at times, but she is mostly silent. When the recruiter is finished, he asks if she has any questions.
“How long until he is in Iraq?” the mother asks first. “How long will he be there? Why should he go? He can make something of himself here, too, you know.”
Without a pause, the staff sergeant tells her about the training the young man might undergo depending on his military occupational specialty. He says her son won’t be sent anywhere until he is ready. He says the son would likely be ineligible to deploy “for at least a year, maybe longer, because he will be learning his new job. With only four years on active duty he might not even go over. But there is, of course, the possibility.”
The mother peppers the recruiter with more questions, including one about news reports of soldiers in Iraq without armor. The recruiter had heard that one before and has a response ready: “CNN stretched the truth on that. Everyone who needed armor had it. The guys who didn’t really need it, didn’t have it at first, but they have it now. No soldier died because they were missing armor.”
The mother stands, signaling the end to the meeting that lasted nearly two tense hours. The recruiter extends his hand to shake hers. She looks at the hand for a full second before shaking it.
“I haven’t decided what I think is best yet,” she says. “I know what he said today, but the decision is really up to him.”
The recruiter nods, thanks them for their time and, unescorted, lets himself out.
Outside the home, the recruiter wipes sweat from inside his collar. He hears questions like those dozens of times per month. He admits such meetings are draining, and he has another one later that night. But he knows the importance of his job.
“I’ve got a mission to meet,” he says.
Though recruiters have fallen short of their contracting goal, they are exceeding their goals for the number of enlistees who actually ship to boot camp, Marine officials said
I uhhhhhhhh...can't honestly say I see a problem.
No surprise. There are journalists running all over Iraq making sure that no American has a positive veiw of what is happening there. I'm surprised they haven't had more trouble before now.
What they are saying is that they are getting higher-quality corn-mash using less corn. Fewer bugs when you get the twits to just not sign up.
Of course, it does not help when the MEPS kick guys off the shipping line for having athlete's footlike I had one young man have today . . . now he has to go to a DR and get a note saying that it is taken care of . . . By the time he has been in boots for a week every kid in his platoon will have it to some degree or another . . . hands down.
Let's do the time warp again. Why do the guys from the times mark these so far in advance?
some navy times thing i think he has