Military Recruiters Target Blacks, Hispanics
ED GORDON, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
After a slow stretch, the United States Army reached its active duty recruiting goals for the first two months of this summer, but the numbers suggest Army recruiting could still fall short for the year. Other branches of the Armed services are meeting or exceeding their monthly goals. In spite of these numbers, fewer Africa-Americans are signing up for the service in recent years, although Latino enlistment is strong. We'll talk more about those numbers in just a moment. First, NPR's Allison Keyes examines how recruiters are trying to reach every good man and woman they can during wartime.
ALLISON KEYES reporting:
If you watch television much, you'd have been hard-pressed lately to miss one of the US Army's recruiting commercials.
(Soundbite from TV commercial)
Unidentified Woman: Something good happen today?
Unidentified Teen: Found someone to pay for me to go to college.
KEYES: This one features an Africa-American teen having dinner with his mother.
(Soundbite from TV commercial)
Unidentified Teen: OK, now before you ask, Mom, I already checked them out and I can get training in just about any field that I want. And besides, it's time for me to be the man.
Unidentified Woman: OK. Tell me more.
KEYES: This commercial, along with two others in English and one in Spanish, runs on channels ranging from SOAPnet to Sci-Fi to Nick at Nite. The various branches of the military have acknowledged that they're relying on everything from bonuses to home buyer programs to increased visibility in high schools and colleges to help boost their recruitment and retention numbers. The Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel has said some parents concerned about negative media images of the war in Iraq are hindering efforts to boost numbers. But parents, like Estefan Saint(ph) in Queens, are all for the military's recruitment efforts. His 17-year-old daughter, Estefania(ph), has signed up for a four-year tour in the US Marines. Her father is proud of her choice even though she'd been planning for college since she was a high school freshman.
Mr. ESTEFAN SAINT (Father): When she told me she wanted to go to the Marines, I was surprised. But after sitting down with her and the two recruiters that came to my house, I knew that what she wanted was exactly what she needed.
KEYES: Estefania is slim, beautiful and determined. She says she sought out a recruiter from the Marines because she wanted to be in the heat of the action to help keep freedom alive and to protect her country.
Ms. ESTEFANIA SAINT (US Marines Recruit): I thought it would a good choice for me, it would be a good thing in my life, a step forward to do something different that not a lot of people can say they've done, especially a female.
KEYES: Estefania says the opportunities for everything from education to financial advancement attracted her. She dismisses those who think she's making a mistake.
Ms. SAINT: I want to do--the child in me, I want to do that adventurous thing, I want to go through those challenges and in the end, go back to those people, especially teachers. I just want to be able to come back to them and say, `I did it. I accomplished it, and you were wrong,' basically.
KEYES: Estefania's recruiter, Marine Sergeant Boylai Sanchez(ph), also lives in Queens. He served for four years and three months. He's been recruiting for eight months.
Sergeant BOYLAI SANCHEZ (US Marines): I go to schools in the morning, talk to kids that are interested in getting information, sometimes give presentations. Then come back to the office, make a couple of phone calls, go on the streets, talk to a couple of kids.
KEYES: Sanchez and the Saints are from the Dominican Republic. Both say the military offers opportunities that weren't available there.
Sgt. SANCHEZ: You know, I'm only 23 years old. I'm already a sergeant. I bought a house in Orlando, and I see myself giving the same opportunity to these kids on the streets that was given to me.
KEYES: But groups of parents and politicians from Maine to San Diego have launched counterrecruitment efforts to ban military recruiters from public high schools and colleges. New York City Councilman Charles Barron wants to enact similar legislation here.
Councilman CHARLES BARRON (New York City): Too often, it is children, youth of color that make up the cannon fodder for war--unjust wars, like the war in Iraq. It is our communities where our young people now see the military as an economic option. It's not that they're all that patriotic; it's just that it's an economic opportunity because all of the other opportunities are closed down.
KEYES: Actually, the number of African-Americans joining the US Army has dropped since the September 11th attacks. Four years ago, close to 23 percent of new recruits were black. So far this year, just over 14 percent are African-American. The percentage of Hispanic recruits is up for both the Army and Navy over the same time period. As of August 6, the Department of Defense says 1,827 service personnel had been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Seventy-three percent of those casualties were white; 11 percent were Hispanic and 10.8 were black. Estefan Saint says he would tell parents who are afraid of sending their kids to the military that when duty calls, one must answer.
Mr. SAINT: We may not agree with what our leaders ask our soldiers to do, but we elect them to make those decisions. And once those decisions are made, we must support them at all times, no matter what happens.
KEYES: His daughter, Estefania, leaves for boot camp next month. Allison Keyes, NPR News, New York.
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