Diverse U.S. Military Reaches Recruitment Goals

For the first time in more than 35 years, the military has met its annual recruiting goals. More than 160,000 men and women who have enlisted this year are more diverse than ever. Host Michel Martin speaks with Ed Dorn, Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and the former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for more information.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now to two very different stories about the way we live now. In a minute, we'll hear about California's marijuana controversy, that's in just a few minutes.

But first, the national unemployment rate stands at nearly 10 percent. Now, that's bad for the U.S. economy and for families, but great for the U.S. military. For the first time since the creation of the all volunteer force in 1973, the military has met its annual recruiting goals. This, despite the near certainty that those who sign up for military service will serve in a war zone. The more than 160,000 men and women who have enlisted this year look a lot like the rest of the country. The force is more diverse and better educated than ever.

Joining us to talk about what this means for the military and for the country is Edwin Dorn. He is a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and a former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He served in the Clinton administration. Professor Dorn, welcome. Welcome back, I should say.

Professor EDWIN DORN (Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin): Thanks a lot, Michel. Good to talk with you.

MARTIN: In recent years, as we've reported, as many people have reported, there has been some difficulty meeting the military's recruitment goals, particularly for some services. So, and now, of course, that story has completely changed. So, is it sort of a matter of arithmetic? As the unemployment rate goes up, does the recruitment go up also?

Prof. DORN: Yeah. Unfortunately, a bad economy is good news for military recruiting. As you said in your introduction, unemployment rate overall is around 10 percent. But among youth, the age cohort that the military is recruiting, it's about 20 percent, 30 percent among African-Americans. So, that's one of the reasons a lot of young people are graduating from high school and seeing the military as an attractive opportunity. Another reason is that several years ago, when the recruitment situation was much, much worse, the armed services started offering much more generous benefits, pay benefits, recruiting incentives, reenlistment incentives. And those are still in place and they are driving some of the market.

MARTIN: Now, of course, it's no secret that we're fighting two wars abroad, Afghanistan and Iraq. This is very much in the headlines and it has been for the last, you know, eight years. However, do you ever worry that some people who may be joining out of unemployment concerns don't really know what they're getting into?

Prof. DORN: You make a good point. Actually two or three years ago, one of the reasons recruiting was so difficult was that the public had become disaffected with the war in Iraq. The situation in Afghanistan is not quite as severe, doesn't seem to have the same negative effects on adult influencers or on youth. But my guess is that most young men and women watch television every day, they get a sense of what they're going to be in for if they join the military.

MARTIN: We mentioned that the force is better educated and more diverse than ever. What effect do you think this has on the force overall?

Prof. DORN: You want a well-educated force, people who have technical skills because a lot of the things that military people do is pretty demanding intellectually. But you also want young men and women who can exercise a great deal of judgment, mature judgment. We're putting young men and women in situations that require much greater levels of maturity than, say, their cohorts who are in the regular civilian labor market or who are going to college.

So, the education plus the indicators we get of their persistence, their determination, make us pretty confident that they'll be able to do a pretty good job. And, of course, they're extraordinarily well-trained in their first few months in the military.

MARTIN: And, of course, again, and I'm asking you to speculate, but what effect do you think these young men and women will have on our country when they - on their country - when they come home? It's long been noted that many people who've served in the military, like yourself, you were on active duty in the Army in Germany in the '70s, often come back to positions of leadership in this country, but sometimes there are re-adjustment difficulties, which of course we know the military is trying to address. What effect do you think they'll have on the country when they come home?

Mr. DORN: Well, you mentioned both sides of the problem. ON the one hand, employers I think are becoming increasingly aware of the type of leadership and technical skills that these young people learn, and so they are in greater demand. On the other hand, the pressures that they experience in Iraq and Afghanistan means that a large number of them are coming back into the civilian labor force with stress disorders that are going to require more attention, and fortunately, I think the military is paying a lot more attention to that than it did, certainly during the Vietnam era.

MARTIN: Edwin Dorn is a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He's also the former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He served in the Clinton administration, and he was kind enough to join us from Austin, Texas. Thank you so much, professor Dorn.

Mr. DORN: My pleasure, Michel.

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