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From Draft NOtices, January - February, 2004


Stepping Up Recruitment

— Shelley Gutiérrez


Military recruitment has experienced a downturn since the mid-1980s with heightened difficulty following the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Since planning for peace is not on the current administration's agenda, the Department of Defense (DoD) must take up the issue of how to attract more combatants to carry out its current and future wars. It is absolutely vital that objectors to militarism understand the elaborate demographic analyses compiled by think tanks at the request of the DoD to prepare military recruiters for swaying youth enlistment decisions. Activists and others involved in the work of (re)educating youth on militarism must know which youth are being targeted and which selling points are being used so sufficient energy can be allocated to compiling literature, videos, and classroom presentations that effectively respond to recruiters.

The sophistication of the recruitment process becomes painstakingly clear when reading Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment (2003), a text compiled by the Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitment (CYPMR). This committee, established by the National Research Council in 1999 in response to a request by the DoD, is a think tank composed of academics from the Universities of Minnesota, Michigan, California at Los Angeles, and Pennsylvania (among others) who analyze dynamics of recruitment including: gender and race, education and aptitude, physical and moral attributes, military life and working conditions, and values impacting enlistment decisions. These researchers have expertise in demography, military manpower, military sociology, psychology, adolescent development, economic advertising, communication, and private sector management. To compile this text for military policy makers and recruiters, CYPMR utilized DoD documentation, three national youth-based surveys, locally based cross-sectional studies, as well as information from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Defense Manpower Data Center. The primary goal of the authors was to understand why the military has experienced a recruitment downturn; forecast future military manpower requirements, future demographic characteristics of youth, and youth attitudes toward militarism; and finally to make recommendations so the DoD can meet its recruitment goals.

Several trends and recommendations mentioned in this text have direct importance for countering military recuitment. The DoD, which is the largest employer in the nation, must successfully recruit 200,000 new recruits each year to maintain a military force of 1.2 million. According to the CYPMR, the cohort of available 18-year-olds is expected to increase from 3.9 million (1999) to 4.4 million by 2009. However, the population distribution is not expected to stay constant. Whites will experience a decrease in their percentage of the population (from 66% to 57%), Latinos will jump from 14% to 22%, while blacks will remain steady at 14%. The CYPMR noted that the greatest threat to recruitment among these groups will be a stark increase in college attendance resulting from the influence of parents with college degrees and few high-paying jobs available for those without a college degree. While whites will experience a great increase in college attainment, the CYPMR noted that blacks and Latinos will not experience much increase in college attainment. This means the projected recruitment market will ultimately be heavily brown and black youth. Furthermore, recruiters will increasingly target college campuses to attract potential college "stop outs" and dropouts. Many times these are lower-income youth who take time off of school to work to pay for tuition or youth who received a poor k-12 education. Recruiters will also be emphasizing the "money for college" offered by the military. But this is deceiving since 65% of youth who enter the military do not receive a degree from a four-year institution and many enlistees never receive any educational benefits at all.

One of the recurring themes throughout this text was the importance of changing youth attitudes toward "service" to one's country. While the CYPMR noted the downfalls of military life in regard to autonomy, living conditions and safety, the researchers suggested that telling youth they can use the military to gain a sense of a higher purpose must become an integral part of the recruitment process. Furthermore, they suggested that this seep more deeply into national war rhetoric to increase the general feeling of patriotism and sense of duty among youth. Bush's use of dichotomies to contrast Americans with those in the "axis of evil," as well as Bush's success in stoking fear, is a part of this project. Another recommendation was to ideologically recruit youth and their family members, specifically their mothers. Classroom presentations to counter military propaganda, then, must not only provide youth with a realistic picture of military life and military benefits, but also provide them with tools for withstanding family pressure to enlist.

One of the major problems noted by the CYPMR is the need to improve the rate of reenlistment. High attrition rates cause increased reliance on reserve forces and also increased emphasis on new recruits. As many have noted, the likelihood of Iraq War soldiers to re-enlist appears low, which will inevitably put more pressure on recruiters. The already high demands and incentives for recruiters result in tactics that cause many youth to enlist based on inaccurate information and "half-truths." This problem will be exacerbated if the DoD follows a CYPMR recommendation to provide greater incentives and rewards for recruiters who have a high recruitment rate.

The most emphasized recommendations for military policy makers and recruiters included: distinguishing civilian jobs from military jobs by emphasizing the importance of having a higher purpose, finding ways to attract youth interested in college, recruiting the youth's entire family (ideologically), and providing incentives for recruiters to increase their enlistment numbers. The extremely low reenlistment rates that we will be seeing over the next few years will bear greatly on recruitment and will impact the implementation of these demands. Military (re)educators are already explaining how working for peace is a better way to feel a part of a higher purpose than being a part of the war machine, that college education can be funded (often more easily) without military involvement, that enlistment has more negative than positive effects on one's family, and that recruiters must always be questioned. Still, we are seeing how the cuts in soldiers' and veterans' benefits are making the practical reasons for enlistment even less enticing. The battle over war/peace and youth's well-being is thus increasingly taking place in the ideological realm. This is the greatest challenge for counter-recruiters.

Information source: Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitment, Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment, Paul Sackett and Anne Mavor, editors, National Academies Press, 2003.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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