Film Details Frustrations Of Army Recruiter Sgt. Clay Usie, a former Army recruiter, is the subject of new documentary, The Recruiter, that airs Monday on HBO. It offers a glimpse at the job's frustrations. Separately, retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane talks about military recruitment.
NPR logo

Film Details Frustrations Of Army Recruiter

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Film Details Frustrations Of Army Recruiter

Film Details Frustrations Of Army Recruiter

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The economy may seem rough for everyone right now, but there is one group that benefits from an economic slow down, military recruiters.

(Soundbite of Army Recruitment Commercial)

Unidentified Man: There's strong, and then there's army strong. It is not just the strength to obey, but strength to command.

Retired Army General JACK KEANE (Former Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army): The trends that we have definitely seen, usually in economic prosperity, it's more challenging to recruit. And in economic downturns, it's less challenging. That is one trend line that seems to hold constant.

SMITH: That's retired four-star Army General Jack Keane. General Keane was vice chief of staff for the Army and one of the architects of the troop surge in Iraq. We'll hear more from General Keane in just a moment. But first, a peek into the life of a military recruiter. It's the subject of a new documentary premiering tomorrow night on HBO.

(Soundbite of "The Recruiter")

Sergeant First Class CLAY USIE (Recruiter, United States Army): Do you think you want to see foreign countries, like maybe Europe, or, you know, the Far East, like South of America or something?

SMITH: The film is called "The Recruiter," and it follows Sergeant First Class Clay Usie as he looks for soldiers among the young people of Houma, Louisiana.

(Soundbite of "The Recruiter")

Sgt. USIE: Elvis Presley, Axel Rose, Dave Thomas. Do you know who Dave Thomas is? The guy who founded Wendy's, right? Now, what do all four of those names have for analysts, well, besides being famous? The United States Army.

SMITH: Edet Belzberg, the film's director, says she was drawn to the town because of Sergeant Usie's reputation.

Ms. EDET BELZBERG (Film Director, "The Recruiter"): I read an article about this Army Times soldier of the year, who happened to be Sergeant Usie, and he received that award in part for recruiting more young men and women into the Army than any other recruiter at that time.

SMITH: Here's a scene from the film where Sergeant Usie is talking to kids at a local high school.

(Soundbite of "The Recruiter")

Sgt. USIE: What's up, Big Mark? What you all dressed up for?

Mr. MARK: Basketball game.

Sgt. USIE: Basketball game? It's true you all are playing tonight, huh?

Mr. MARK: Yeah.

Sgt. USIE: Seven o'clock?

Mr. MARK: Yeah.

Sgt.USIE: I've got an appointment at six, but when I'm done, I'm going to try to run out here. Hopefully, I can make at least, you know, half time or whatever.

Mr. MARK: All right, sir.

Sgt. USIE: All right, Mark. Good seeing you, man. We'll see you later on during the week.

SMITH: Sergeant Usie joins us now from Houma, Louisiana, where he grew up. Good morning, Sergeant.

Sgt. USIE: Good morning, Robert. How are you?

SMITH: I'm doing well. Thank you. And yourself?

Sgt. USIE: Doing great.

SMITH: When we listened to that clip, you're clearly trying to be friends with these kids. Is that an important part of being a recruiter?

Sgt. USIE: Yeah. I mean, I wouldn't really class it as, you know, friends, but ultimately, a role model and a mentor. I was very fortunate in my 10 years as a recruiter that I had a very receptive community that welcomed me into the high schools and allowed me to mentor some of these young men and women to, you know, life-altering decisions, whether it be the military, college, or the workforce.

SMITH: There is a lot of rejection in the film, as I'm sure there is with the job of being a recruiter.

Sgt. USIE: Right.

SMITH: We see you. We see people hanging up on you on the telephone. We see parents warning you away, saying, basically, stay away from my kid.

Sgt. USIE: Right.

SMITH: Why were you willing to let a documentary film crew watch that rejection?

Sgt. USIE: Well, you know, I think it's important that, you know, America gets the proper information and realizes the challenges and the strifes of military recruiters in an all-voluntary force, you know? And there were challenges that I met, and the film captured those challenges. I mean, every day is not an easy day.

SMITH: In the film, you mentioned that when you first started recruiting, you almost felt guilty that you were working a desk job while your friends were still serving in Iraq.

Sgt. USIE: Right.

SMITH: And Afghanistan.

Sgt. USIE: Yeah. You know, and that was something that I experienced. It was an emotional feeling and ultimately, the war is kicking. And I know that I have the qualifications and the skills to be out there leading men. But at the same time, I realized one day that, hey, I have the ultimate responsibility of getting the good-quality people that they need to continue to support our missions.

SMITH: How do you talk to recruits about the possibility of being killed in action?

Sgt. USIE: You know, when I was on recruiting duty, that was one of my, I guess for the lack of better terms, one of my pet peeves. If I really had a recruit or a family member or a significant other that wanted me to, you know, dispel some myth that, hey, I'm not going to deploy, that was kind of one of my statements when I met. I thanked that parent. I thanked that applicant for taking the time in sitting down with me. But I was like, hey, let's get something off the board because your time is very important to you and so is mine. If you want me to try to tell you or give you a guarantee that you're not going to deploy to a foreign country to defend your nation, then we need to end the interview right now.

SMITH: In the film, we see parents who frankly don't want their children going to war. And it's the parents that are concerned about their kids dying. It's understandable. In fact, there's a point in the film where you're talking to a recruit named Chris about his stepfather and his stepfather's misgivings about him enlisting. Let's listen to that.

(Soundbite of "The Recruit")

Sgt. USIE: Your stepfather, no disrespect to you, it's my personal opinion, is an armchair quarterback. I will not be questioned by a guy that sits on his couch all day. I'm not going to argue with the stupid. I don't care if he's your dad. I'm going to call an ace of spade an ace of spades. I'm going to tell you you're right or you're wrong, because guess what? I'm like your dad now, and I will not tolerate it.

SMITH: Sergeant, that seems a little harsh.

Sgt. USIE: You know, I'm not exactly sure how the tone of that conversation went, but I think that that is also little misleading in the film. And I've discussed that with the filmmaker in detail, as well. It's kind of a loose term to call him a stepfather because his mother's husband was only in his life for maybe six months.

But my overall point to that young man is that I was a subject matter expert about soldiering. My personal opinion is that he was a pretty lazy figure in the society, and this young man is currently on his second tour in Iraq and is a proud soldier and very proud of his accomplishments.

SMITH: From what I saw in the film, you may have been one of the few adults in a lot of these recruits' lives that actually spent time with them that seemed concerned about their health and their future, that talked to them with respect.

Sgt. USIE: That's my personality. That's why I serve my country. That's the thing with these recruits. You know, I've seen potential. I've seen young Americans, when I look out into these crowds and stuff, you know, having come back and, you know, been a veteran of war, you know. I've seen America, and I've seen a lot of potential in a lot of young men and women that maybe hadn't had the best shake, you know. And if I met those, I treated them with dignity and respect like I would treat anyone else. You know, I had no control over how they were reared up until that point. But ultimately, I guess, through me, they may have discovered some things and hopefully they did because a lot of them are doing really well.

SMITH: Sergeant First Class Clay Usie is the subject of the new HBO documentary called the "The Recruiter," and he speaks to us from his home where he grew up, in Houma, Louisiana. Thanks for talking with us.

Sgt. USIE: Thank you, Robert.

(Soundbite of "The Recruiter")

Sgt. USIE: I believe in God. I believe in family. I believe in country. My name is Sergeant First Class Clay C. Usie. I am now and will always be a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am and will always be an American soldier, America's Army, ready and relevant. Army leads the way.

(Soundbite of crowd applauding)

SMITH: Sergeant Usie finished his tours as a military recruiter in 2006. Since that time, the Army has met or exceeded it's recruitment goals and is on pace to do so again this year, but it remains a challenge. Army officials estimate that almost seven out of 10 young people do not qualify to enter military service. General Jack Keane, that we heard from earlier, says some recruits can't meet basic requirements, like getting a high school diploma.

Gen. KEANE: It's a sort of a sad indictment in the sense that among American youth today, that statistics you have is pretty accurate. I think it's in the high 60's. They cannot qualify for military service in terms of, one, they do not have a diploma. Two, they cannot meet our aptitude test scores, which is also a problem that we have, and I believed that's a bit of indictment of our education system.

It would seem to me that, if you graduate from a high school and then - and your military gives you an aptitude test to meet the challenges of military service, you should be able to pass that test. But we have a surprising number of people that cannot meet the minimum aptitude test scores for qualification for military service, and that's a sad thing in of itself.

SMITH: Keane says other recruits failed to meet the physical standards required by the military.

Gen. KEANE: We're challenged by the serious obesity that some people have, and then in some cases, it's a medical disqualification. And in some other cases, we can work with the youngster. You tell them to come back at another time, after they've lost some weight and get them down to a reasonable amount of weight because what we do not want to do, you know, is put some recruits through six to eight weeks of basic training and have them come out the other end, you know, still not able to meet the military standards of military service in terms of weight goals.

SMITH: In recent years, the Army has increase the number of waivers granted to recruits who may not have otherwise qualified for service, and they're going to need every one they can get. General Keane said the Army is in the process of increasing the size of its force by 65,000 by the year 2010.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.