With the Army still short of its 2005 quota by some 16,000 recruits
and no end in sight to the disastrous occupation of Iraq, the
new school year promises to be one in which military recruiters
step up their activities. Pressures to meet their "mission"
create the potential for increased recruiter abuse. The New
York Times reported that last year the Pentagon investigated
over 1,000 recruiting "improprieties," and after one
enterprising young man in Denver tape-recorded a recruiter suggesting
that he lie about his background, the recruiter was demoted one
pay grade. The general stand-down (one-day suspension of all recruiting
activities) called by the Army Recruiting Command last May was
an implicit admission that more than a few recruiters were using
unethical tactics to get young people to enlist.
In light of growing evidence of recruiter dishonesty, it is interesting
to contrast the realities on the ground with the image of the
ideal recruiter crafted by the Pentagon. The Army Recruiting Command's
manual, "The Army Interview," released last April, depicts
a fantasy image of the perfect recruiter. At once a piece of inflated
nationalist rhetoric and a mundane description of tips and techniques
for the successful salesman, the manual describes how the "art
and science of recruiting" is designed to "keep the
Army connected to America" by "exploiting all available
assets in such a manner as to dominate every market area."
Recruiters, according to the manual, are "the Army's best
and brightest leaders." Citations from organizational psychology
textbooks pepper the manual in an attempt to lift the spirits
and self-image of the new recruiter as someone skilled in "transformational
leadership" rather than the more prosaic method of "transactional
leadership" based on rewards associated with salesmanship.
In effect, the ideological thrust of the manual turns on the
myth that military recruiters are not enlisting young people but
rather "counseling, coaching, and mentoring" them. After
an opening recognition that "there are many similarities
between 'sales' and 'leadership,'" the manual invokes the
Declaration of Independence in order to show that the "profession
of arms" is a noble one and that recruiters are "leaders"
not salesmen. Only the most inept recruiter, the manual suggests,
would lapse into becoming "nothing more than a talking-head
salesman, who could be replaced by an electronic kiosk in a mall."
"Every leader in the Army has counseled a Soldier during
their career," the novice recruiter is told, as the language
of the manual subtly shifts from the "art and science of
recruiting" to the "art of effective counseling."
For anyone familiar with the training of sales personnel in a
business environment, however, "leadership" and "counseling"
as defined by the authors of the manual sound remarkably like
selling. Required skills include "active listening, studying
human behavior, sharpening effective communication techniques,
becoming self-aware, and developing valuable interpersonal skills."
The ideal recruiter will know how to read the customer's body
language and interpret his ethnic-based biases. This latter point
is emphasized in a short vignette in which an Army recruiter loses
a prospect because he failed to recognize that for "Hispanics"
the family is an important value.
In another fictitious vignette, a recruiter is about to land
a new recruit when a friendly policeman who happens to know the
boy informs the recruiter that only a few days earlier the prospect
had been arrested for a controlled substance. The recruiter immediately
drives to the boy's house to inform him that he cannot enlist,
an act that exemplifies "Army values," according to
the manual, but one that is contradicted by recent stories of
recruiters advising prospects on how to successfully mask their
On the one hand, then, the manual represents the ideal recruiter
as a counselor and confidant who consistently follows Army regulations.
But in other sections of the manual we sense the intense pressure
on recruiters to view the recruiting context as a battlefield:
"A recruiter's adherence to Army values and commitment to
do his best is the basis of the warrior ethos. It is this frame
of mind whereby recruiters will not quit until they have accomplished
their mission. It compels recruiters to work through any condition
to achieve victory, regardless of how long it takes and no matter
how much effort is required."
In an extended vignette at the end of the manual, we meet Sgt.
Dawson, the perfect recruiter. An Iraq combat veteran who has
dedicated his career to his fallen comrades, Dawson has transferred
"many of the personal qualities that enabled him to succeed
on the battlefield . . . to his recruiting efforts. . . . Just
as in combat, he would not accept defeat or allow his fellow recruiters
to accept defeat."
At numerous points in the manual, the fantasy of the recruiter
as ethical teacher, counselor, and "transformational leader"
breaks down and the bottom line is more clearly stated. The recruiter
is fighting a different kind of war in which he must "gather
intelligence" on "prospects," "gain a commitment
from the prospect to join the Army," and "engage the
prospect's emotional side; get the prospect enthusiastic, motivated,
Sgt. Dawson insinuates himself into the culture of the local
high school, and tells a young female prospect that her desires
to travel, "be part of something bigger," and "help
people" will be fulfilled most easily in the Army. When asked
by the prospect's parents about possible deployment to a combat
zone, Sgt. Dawson replies that she will have the best training
in the world and that she can rely on "the Army values and
warrior ethos to get you through." He then shows the family
a travel video about Europe.
Perhaps the most truthful moment in "The Army Interview"
is the following: "Let's face it, the prospect is being faced
[sic] to make a difficult decision. He does not have the leadership
experience or training recruiters possess." With only slight
modifications, this is precisely the reason the counter-recruitment
movement is struggling to demilitarize public schools. Young people
are intelligent and have many dreams. What they lack is sufficient
life experience to handle high-powered salesmen disguised as amiable
Lupus et angus: Haec propter illos scripta est homines fabula
qui fictis causis innocentes opprimunt. Aesop (The
wolf and the lamb: This fable was written about men who exploit
innocents with false promises.)
Source: "The Army Interview" (USAREC 3-01-1), Fort
Knox, 2005, located on the Web by Jorge Mariscal for COMD.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)