During the past fiscal year, with our nation at war, 170,000 men and women raised their hands and said: “Send me.”
Still, increasing US military aggression and occupation has created heavy stress on the largest military in the world. Various steps have been taken to alleviate this stress and to improve the “tooth-to-tail” ratio of the ground forces.
The US Army is changing structurally, moving from divisions of ten thousand soldiers to brigades of three thousand. Contracted personnel have been used to make up for the loss of the “division trains” that formerly provided logistical support to soldiers in the field. Truck transportation, warehousing, messing as well as janitorial and other services are now provided by civilians under contract.
Air Force and Navy personnel are being used to augment ground forces in the field as well as in garrison, to operate civilian concentration camps for one example.
Current US foreign policy includes the occupation of two large countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, where soldiers and Marines are being sent back for their third and fourth combat tours. They are worn out and their families, if they still have them, are sick of it. There are other areas with ‘shadow wars’ in places such as Somalia, Pakistan, Colombia and Iran, and the US has bases in many other countries, particularly Germany and Korea. The deep thinkers associated with American Exceptionalism, the belief that the US should run the world, have other places (as well as the US itself) in mind. As an Army undersecretary recently said: “It’s not just Centcom that thinks they need more soldiers; Northcom [the US] wants more soldiers, Africom wants a dedicated headquarters, Pacom wants more for 8th Army in Korea.”
Plus, the US Army is currently on track to increase 65,000 people to a total of 547,000 active-duty soldiers, up from 482,000 before the current conflicts. There is a corresponding increase in the US Marine Corps, from 194,000 to 221,000, for a total increase of 92,000 to 768,000 ground troops.
Where to find the military warriors necessary for these increasing military requirements?
The poor and worsening US economy is a huge help, particularly as it leaves behind those without skills or higher education. Recent news reports:
U.S. Civilian Unemployment, now at 6.9%, is forecast to be 7.6% in July 2009
The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week rose to a 26-year high, indicating employers are stepping up job cuts as the recession deepens.
On Wednesday, June 18th, a US Navy unit was working in an Afghan village when ten Chinese-made rockets slammed into them. Navy Corpsman Marc Retmier, 19, of California died at the scene. Retmier, a star safety on his high school football team, had enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school. Steven Retmier, Marc’s father, said the lack of job opportunities and activities makes the region an easy target for military recruiters. “There’s nothing else for these kids to do,” he said. “There’s no future here for them.”
The US economy is tanking, and so all four active services have met 100 percent of their recruiting goals during October and November. The Army and Marine Corps, carrying the brunt of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are off to very hot starts in the new fiscal year. The Army brought in 101 percent and 106 percent of its October and November goals, respectively, while Marine recruiters enlisted 104 percent and 105 percent.
Still, the army needs bodies. What teenager wants a job that ends in a body bag, like Marc Retmier? Nobody. So a change in image is required.
The Marine Corps has no problem recruiting young Americans because they have snazzy uniforms and an elite image. The Army is going to more colorful uniforms and is moving into the entertainment business to burnish its image.
A couple hundred young adults gathered recently in California and killed each other. The blood bath—well, virtual blood bath—was part of a three-day gaming tournament held at a real-estate training center and sponsored by the U.S. Army. The event was held through the weekend of December 5 and was open to anyone 16 or older; younger gamers were allowed to play with permission from their parents.
The event’s main attraction was a network of 15 computers set in a dark room, with camouflage netting covering the ceilings. The computer terminals were hooked up to a network where players could compete against each other as virtual Army soldiers.
Those who registered high scores in the game, achieved through efficient killing and teamwork, received various prizes handed out by Army personnel, including iPods and computer hardware, and even a snowboard.
The Army is also big in home-based video games. “America’s Army” is a wildly popular video game has more than 9 million registered players.
America’s Army has ranked among the top ten online PC action games with almost 9.5 million registered players who have completed over 380 million missions from basic training to operations in the War on Terrorism. A Gamespot.com editor asserts “nothing beats going in and seeing what the Army really does…without actually having to do it.” In recent years, America’s Army has expanded to console versions for Xbox and Playstation, arcade and mobile applications published through licensing arrangements. The US army thinks so much of the game it’s spending another $50 milllion on what it euphemistically calls ‘combat training games’.
Think that war is a bloody mess with body parts lying all around? Not in America’s Army.
Far from providing realism, “America’s Army” offers a sanitized version of war to propagandize youth on the benefits of an Army career and prepare them for the battlefield. In the game, soldiers are not massacred in bloody fire typical of most video games, or for that matter, real combat. When hit, bullet wounds resemble puffs of red smoke, and players can take up to four hits before being killed. To further protect youth, concerned parents can turn on optional controls that sanitize the violence even more – shots produce no blood whatsoever and dead soldiers just sit down.
Is preying on teen-agers legal?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has found that Army use of the game, and its recruiting practice in general, violate international law. In May, the ACLU published a report that found the armed services “regularly target children under 17 for military recruitment. Department of Defense instruction to recruiters, the US military’s collection of information of hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds, and military training corps for children as young as 11 reveal that students are targeted for recruitment as early as possible. . . The ACLU report goes on to highlight the role of “America’s Army,” saying the Army uses the game to “attract young potential recruits … train them to use weapons, and engage in virtual combat and other military missions,” adding that the game “explicitly targets boys 13 and older.”
Talk about entertainment —
The Army opened the Army Experience Center, a one-of-a-kind, 14,500-square-foot virtual educational facility Friday at the Franklin Mills Mall. . . . .the Army learned that the best way for people to become acquainted with their Army was for them to be able to touch, feel and see the Army in a non-threatening environment. By incorporating the lessons learned from and technologies of those outreach tools, officials believe the Army Experience Center will make the Army accessible to visitors.
Auto racing is big with red-blooded young (and old) Americans, and so there are ‘natural’ ties between racing and the Army —
* “The Army #8 pit crew, crew chief and driver keep their car racing around the track at speeds over 180 mph. Vehicle Mechanics are responsible for maintaining the mechanical components of the Stryker Armored Vehicle, while the driver keeps it blazing over rough terrain at 60 mph.”
* “The U.S. Army Top Fuel Team keeps their dragster rocketing down the track at NHRA events around the country. An Army pilot maneuvers the AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter at speeds up to 225 mph on training and combat missions. Before every take-off, an entire team of Mechanics and Repairers makes sure the mechanical, computer and weapons systems of the aircraft are operating flawlessly.”
* “The unsung heroes of Army Racing and the U.S. Army are the transporters. After all, the Army #8 Team can’t win a NASCAR race if the car, tools and tires aren’t there. For military missions, one of the most important jobs in the U.S. Army is getting Soldiers and their equipment where they need to be.”
* The Army Accessions Command announced that it will sponsor Ryan Newman, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
There are other, more traditional recruitment tools, of course:
* Recruitment Centers
Recruiters in the hundreds of recruitment centers in the US and in some overseas countries are helped by active duty bounty hunters —
The Army Recruiter Assistance Program pays soldiers $1,000 when a recruit they refer enlists and another $1,000 when that recruit ships to basic combat training.
Do recruiters ever step over the line? Apparently.
U.S. Senator Wayne Allard (R-Colorado), in a 2005 letter to Army Secretary Francis Harvey, said that the secretary of the Army should launch a nationwide investigation into reports that some Army recruiters engaged in questionable recruiting tactics. In the letter Allard wrote that “according to these reports, the rules weren’t just bent, they were broken and tossed away.”
One of the reports the Senator is referring to is the attempted recruitment of David McSwane, a 17 year old editor of a high school newspaper in Golden, Colorado. McSwane posed as a high school dropout, with a drug problem that he was “unable to kick”. Then he recorded, on audio tape, conversations allegedly showing that the recruiters told him how to obtain a phony diploma on the Internet and what medication to buy to cover up the drug problem. A friend of McSwane’s also video-taped a recruiter taking McSwain to a store to buy a “detox” medication to help him pass the army physical. David said he was told by the recruiter to buy the product.
A voice on the audio tape is heard saying, “You just have to follow instructions to a tee. It has got like a 150 percent guarantee that you will pass. You know, I’ve seen it work before.”
One principal recruiting device is that the military will pay for an education. But does it?
Through various programs, such as the G.I. Bill in the U.S., which offers up to $71,000, young people are given an incentive to join the military in the form of scholarships for college when their enlistments expire. This is the primary reason why many enlist; a young recruit interviewed in Why We Fight, William Solomon, cites this as his motivation. Counter-recruiters argue that this is a false hope, noting for example that 57% of those who apply for G.I. Bill benefits do not receive them, and that the average net payment to those who do is less than $2200. This is a consequence of various eligibility requirements; 65% of eligible veterans receive money.
Lowering standards helps —
In 2007, only 79 percent of recruits had high school diplomas; in 2008, the figure was 83 percent. This key measure of whether soldiers will complete their enlistment period is down from 92 percent in 2003.The Army is also granting an increasing number of “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal records. In 2007, this affected some 14,000 Army recruits (18 percent) compared with an average of less than 6 percent annually between 2003 and 2006.
And so do bonuses —
Enlistment bonuses range up to $16,000 for a six year enlistment for rocket crewman and $20,000 for Special Forces.
Potential recruits who fail to qualify can be enlisted —
Entry into the Army depends on enlistees having earned a GED, or a high school-level or higher diploma. Students without these credentials — categorized as “Tier III” — cannot enlist. In an effort to improve recruitment numbers, the Army has been authorized to enlist some of those Tier III students.
“The Department of Defense has allowed us to contract these Soldiers in as Tier III enlistees,” said Lt. Col. Val Siegfried, Army branch chief for enlisted accessions. “After four weeks of school, if they earn their GED, DOD is letting us recode them as a Tier II so they may move on to basic training.”
In August the US Army opened its first prep school to prepare high school dropouts for military service. The Army wants unqualified prospects to earn their GEDs. “Only three out of every 10 people of military age” qualify, says one Army rep. “We are going to have to do something different.”
It can get comical —
Staff Sgt. Don Jung sized up the young immigrant shifting nervously before him in a busy office, tucked inside a shopping mall near the USC campus. “If you join the Army, you can get your citizenship in one year,” Jung told the 24-year-old from Bangladesh. “You can continue your education while in the service too. The Army will pay for your college course. If you do that, what kind of job do you want to get?” The man, who moved to Los Angeles with his family three years ago, stared back blankly. Jung pulled out a glossy pamphlet listing more than 150 Army jobs.
“How about financial management?” he asked. The man, who gave his name only as Rashid, did not look impressed. Jung changed tacks. “If you play guitar,” he said, “the U.S. Army Band is also a job. We have various jobs, not just combat jobs.”
And it can get sad —
Since 2003, 15 Army recruiters have committed suicide. Four of those have come from the Army’s Houston Recruiting Battalion. The national attention over those deaths has spurred the Army to establish a suicide prevention board to study the mental health of recruiters. Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group, says recruiting may be the toughest job in the military: “They are under an incredible amount of stress.” The Army has 38 recruiting battalions across the nation. They’ve met the goal of signing 80,000 new active-duty soldiers every year, and with the expanding army that will increase. It helps that the standards for new recruits have been reduced — allowances are made for certain felony convictions and pre-existing mental conditions.
The US has 30,000 noncitizens in uniform and outsourced other jobs overseas, why not go the full monty and export recruitment? We’ll call it the American Foreign Legion.
The armed forces, already struggling to meet recruiting goals, are considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks, including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and put more immigrants on a faster track to U.S. citizenship if they volunteer, according to Pentagon officials.
Bottom line — recruiting is expensive. In fact, in per-enlistee terms, recruiting costs have more than doubled over the past 20 years – from about $7,000 per recruit in 1985 to more than $16,000 per recruit in 2005, according to a report for the Defense Department titled “Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force.”
Let’s see, 16 grand plus times 170,000 plus — you do the math.
There are other, more subtle forms of recruitment.
* Junior ROTC
“To Motivate Young People to Be Better Citizens”
The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) is a Federal program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces in high schools across the United States. The program was originally created as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 and later expanded under the 1964 ROTC Vitalization Act. The Pentagon annually spends over a quarter billion dollars on 150,000 army cadets and 100,00 in other services. According to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), 70% of Army JROTC students that continue with Army programs enlists directly into the lowest rank of the military, Private, with many ending up worse off economically than non-veterans.
The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a college-based, officer commissioning program, predominantly in the United States. It is designed as a college elective that focuses on leadership development, problem solving, strategic planning, and professional ethics. The modern Army ROTC was created by the National Defense Act of 1916 and commissioned its first class of lieutenants in 1920. It was patterned after the British Officers Training Corps, which supplied most of the British officers in World War I. ROTC produces officers in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces except the U.S. Coast Guard. ROTC graduates constitute 56 percent of U.S. Army, 11 percent of U.S. Marine Corps, 20 percent of U.S. Navy, and 41 percent of U.S. Air Force officers, for a combined 39 percent of all active duty officers in the Department of Defense.
NOTE: The final article in this series, because JWN strives for fairness and balance, will be on counter-recruitment.
Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler said, war is a racket.