The Challenges of Military Recruiting in Wartime

Ed Gordon talks about the challenges facing military recruiters during wartime with Lt. Col. Pamela Hart of the Army Public Affairs Department and with pollster David Bositis, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

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ED GORDON, host:

We're joined now by spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Pamela Hart with Army Public Affairs and pollster David Bositis, senior research associate with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. They both join us from Washington, DC.

David, let me start with you, and good to have you on the program. You have studied this. Talk to me about what you see as the numbers. We should note that Major General Michael Rochelle, commander of the Army recruitment, has suggested the black recruitment shortfall is, in his words, alarming.

Mr. DAVID BOSITIS (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): Well, there are a couple of things to put it in perspective. One is the Army for many years now has relied upon African-Americans' higher propensity to serve in the Army to fill their recruitment ranks. And African-Americans and their parents hold the Army in very high esteem. They view the Army as being one of the most egalitarian and fairest institutions in the United States with regard to African-Americans. So that's on the plus side. On the minus side, you have African-Americans who are opposed to going to war in Iraq, and they are much more negative than whites on what's going on in Iraq. You have the standards for the Army as you--when you read about education, you know that there's a high dropout rate among African-Americans, and the Army is looking for people who have completed high school. And for those African-Americans who have completed high school or are looking to go on to college, there are now more alternatives than the Army than they had in the past, and so the Army looks less attractive as a career move.

GORDON: Lieutenant Colonel Hart, let me ask you. The numbers must be encouraging for those of you who wanted to uproot and change this downturn over the course of the last two months. But tell me what you tell a prospective recruit.

Lieutenant Colonel PAMELA HART (Army Public Affairs Department): We have so many wonderful programs in the military. A soldier serving in the United States Army is serving to protect his country and all that the Constitution stands for. So there are, in addition to becoming a better person, you're able to then strengthen yourself mentally and physically, emotionally, just building character toward becoming whatever you want to become later in life. So the Army's an excellent starting point for young people.

GORDON: What are you hearing in terms of concern from these young people by means of why they may be hesitant to join?

Lt. Col. HART: Well, of course, the war is the foremost, is why people are a little hesitant, and it's not so much the young people out there; it's primarily the parents and the coaches and the clergymen. Those are the types of people in their lives that influence them and are about 10 to 15 percent less encouraging than they used to be about their young people, their loved ones, joining the armed forces.

GORDON: David, isn't this, to some degree, a catch-22? While opportunities have opened up for minorities to look to other fields, many minorities saw the Army and the military as perhaps the fairest in terms of advancement.

Mr. BOSITIS: As I said, African-Americans think very favorably towards the Army, and there are many African-Americans who have been prominent leaders in the military and who--people like Colin Powell, people who are responsible for making the Army what it is today with regard to welcoming African-Americans to serving. But between the alternatives and the negatives of the war right now, that makes recruiting people a tough sell.

GORDON: Lieutenant Colonel, let me ask you, as relates to the concern that we have heard from a number of servicemen, and that is this extended duty that many of them are finding themselves in when they have to go to war and have to go to service, what are you telling people? And any encouragement that we will see in the immediate future that curb itself?

Lt. Col. HART: I'm not clear about your question. We have an all-volunteer force and that requires constant effort, constant attention to serving the military. So...

GORDON: Well, I guess my question is when you hear of duty where you're told you'll go over for X number of weeks or X number of months and then that duty is extended. We're hearing from many veterans who come back who suggest that this is taxing upon them.

Lt. Col. HART: Of course. Our families and soldiers--it's taxing on everyone because we are a nation at war right now. But that's a part of this stop-loss program and that's a different issue. But soldiers are oftentimes, in order to maintain unit integrity and to keep that team together, we do ask that they be with that unit and not leave their positions or change duty stations for the duration for when that unit is deployed.

GORDON: Mm-hmm. David, let me ask you. The lieutenant colonel brings up the idea of the all-volunteer Army. There have been questions of whether or not we're going to have to bring the draft back. What's your thought there?

Mr. BOSITIS: A very prominent African-American leader has advocated for that, Charlie Rangel, the congressman from Harlem. But I do not think--the war is very unpopular with the public right now, and I think it would be a disaster for--an admission of the problems that are going on for the administration to even hint that the draft is going to come back. So they're not going to suggest that.

GORDON: All right. Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Pamela Hart and David Bositis with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Thank you both for joining us.

Mr. BOSITIS: You're welcome.

Lt. Col. HART: You're welcome.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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