National Guard Struggles to Recruit
LIANE HANSEN, host:
The life and death demand of the war in Iraq have imposed great burdens on the National Guard. Many units have been called up for active duty, in the face of grave danger, tearing Guard members from their families and jobs. Many have chosen not to remain in the Guard, creating a pressing need for new recruits. To fill the gap the Guard is now offering finder's fees to soldiers who convince friends to sign up.
It's a strategy often used by private businesses, such as health clubs to attract new customers. But it's also the latest sign that wartime deployments are making this a challenging time for military recruiters.
NPR's Anthony Brooks reports.
ANTHONY BROOKS reporting:
The new program is called the Guard Recruiting Assistant Program. Or in a military that loves its acronyms, G-RAP. The aim is to increase traffic in National Guard recruiting stations like this one, in a Concorde, New Hampshire mall.
Specialist TIMOTHY COWETT(ph) (Recruiter, The National Guard, New Hampshire): What can I do for you, sir?
Unidentified Man #2: How you doing?
BROOKS: On a recent afternoon in the recruiting station, Specialist Timothy Cowett sits behind the desk eating a burger and fries. He says business is slow.
Specialist COWETT: It's hit or miss. Some days we get five people in here. Some days we get two. Some days we get none. I mean, there's not a lot of steady traffic. It mostly depends on the weather and how the mall is doing itself.
BROOKS: It also depends on the state of the world. Today, more than 120,000 Guard troops are on active duty and along with the Reserves, they represent more than 40 percent of U.S. military forces in Iraq. With long overseas deployments, the Guard no longer means part-time weekend duty and some cash for college. That's why the Guard has missed its recruiting goals for the past three years. Public Affairs Officer Major Greg Heilshorn(ph) says over the next two years, the New Hampshire Guard needs to expand its ranks by 250 to get to a force of 1,872.
Major GREG HEILSHORN (Public Affairs Officer, The National Guard, New Hampshire): In fact that's become kind of mantra for us, 1,872. You know we hope that the G-RAP Program will further strengthen our recruiting efforts to get to that mark.
BROOKS: The program allows Guard members to earn $2,000 if they convince a buddy to enlist. Frank Crabtree(ph), an 18-year-old private who comes from a long military tradition, became the first in the state to pocket the money.
Private FRANK CRABTREE (The National Guard, New Hampshire): My great grandfather was Marine; my grandfather was Army; my dad was National Guard and I was National Guard. I seen that this program was a good incentive to not only get recruits into the unit but also to help out my community. It also makes the recruiter's job a little bit easier.
BROOKS: Crabtree convinced 20-year-old Raymond Eanes(ph), a friend from high school to join up.
Mr. RAYMOND EANES (High School Friend or Private Frank Crabtree): He just told me, you know, he told me the truth. Told me what it was all about: first of all, helping my country. There's bonuses and college is paid for and you don't have to actually be stationed somewhere. You can be home and you get to see the world.
BROOKS: Both young men spoke carefully under the watchful eye of Master Sergeant Robin Lavertue(ph), their recruiter from the northern part of the state, who calls the G-RAP Program a good incentive.
Master Sergeant ROBIN LAVERTUE (The National Guard, New Hampshire): Recruiting has always been a challenge, no matter what circumstances are going on. Our biggest strength is our unit members. And when they are encouraged to bring their friends in, it adds to the strength of our National Guard.
Mr. MICHAEL O'HANLON(ph) (Military Analyst, Brookings Institution): It's creative, its' entrepreneurial, its' like what we do with many things in the private sector.
BROOKS: That's Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst with the Brookings Institution. He says the Guard needs to be creative because its largest source of recruits, veterans of the regular Army, is drying up.
Mr. O'HANLON: It really is doing very badly with that group of people for the obvious reason that if people leave the Army because they're already feeling over-deployed, they're not going to want to go to join the National Guard and be deployed. That's where a lot of the National Guard's problem has arisen.
BROOKS: Paul Rieckhoff, agrees. He's a National Guard Lieutenant who heads the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But Rieckhoff, says paying soldiers to be assistant recruiters is a bad idea.
Lieutenant PAUL Rieckhoff, (National Guard, New Hampshire): The average infantry soldier isn't really informed about the fine print in a six-year enlistment contract. And the average infantrymen can't promise that kid anything.
BROOKS: Rieckhoff, says he's particularly concerned these days, following reports on overzealous recruiters using coercive tactics to sign people up.
Lieutenant Rieckhoff,: We need to make sure is that our military and our government is being absolutely and entirely up front, clear and transparent with every possible recruit about what the demands are going to be on them and their family.
BROOKS: But Master Sergeant Lavertue says soldiers who enroll in the G-RAP Program take an online course which urges them to be open about the risks of National Guard service.
Sergeant LAVERTUE: We train our recruiters, one, be upfront and honest. If a young Raymond Eanes comes in and asks a question, Will I be deployed? The answer is Yes, it could happen. There's no hiding stuff like before or, you have to be on the up and up.
BROOKS: For his part, Private Frank Crabtree, who's not yet served overseas, says he doesn't know everything a recruiter knows; but he says he can still help.
Private CRABTREE: Yeah I think I have just enough intelligence about the program and about the Guard to kind of get someone interested in joining. And if they seem that they're interested, then I bring them to a recruiter of some sort and then we go from there.
BROOKS: The Guard Recruiting Assistant Program is now running in 22 states and will be nationwide by the end of the year.
Anthony Brooks, NPR News.
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