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'Putting Them in Boots' More Challenging for Recruiters

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C., April 14, 2005 – Even including the high school graduates who have decided to attend the universities in Clemson and Columbia and those who don't qualify for military service because of criminal records, the pool of potential recruits here in this resort town is small.

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Army Sgts. 1st Class Ricardo Terrazas and Alphonso Clark of the Mount Pleasant Recruiting Station near Charleston, S.C., work closely together to bring in new recruits. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Add in a 42 percent high school dropout rate in Charleston County schools, and the situation gets even worse for military recruiters here.

It's a plight that Army recruiters at the small Mount Pleasant recruiting station say makes their job especially challenging. "Putting them in boots," as recruiters like to say, has become a difficult job.

Last year, the Army set a goal of 30,000 new recruits by the end of fiscal 2005. Although officials have publicly admitted that recruiting numbers are down during the second quarter of the fiscal year, the Army remains committed to reaching that goal. Hoping to broaden its reach, the Defense Department plans to add as many as 250 recruiters in an effort to reach more potential recruits.

At the Mount Pleasant station, just across the Cooper River Bridge from Charleston, station manager Army Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Terrazas said that through the second quarter of this fiscal year, the Mount Pleasant station added just four new recruits. The goal for the station was 10, he said.

Terrazas said part of the reason for slower recruiting is that many potential recruits are looking at college as their first option in life.

"If you surveyed students in the 12th grade in the first week of their senior year, 90 percent or higher would say that they are going to some type of advanced education," Terrazas explained. "Everybody wants to go to college. They hear it from their guidance counselors, they hear it from their parents, they hear it from their peer groups."

However, it is that same pool of students -- those bound for college -- that is the target audience the Army is looking for, he says.

"The Army is as much concerned about quality of recruits as it is about quantity," Terrazas pointed out. "The Army is looking for smarter recruits; the high-tech Army that we have today requires it. We've found that college kids are ones that want more out of life. They are the achievers, and have the potential to do more."

For many years, the Army made money for college a big part of its recruiting campaign in hopes of attracting bright young students to join the military. Through a combination of the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army College Fund, the Army has been offering $70,000 in college money to potential recruits. That plan seemed to work well until recently, when recruiting numbers began declining.

Sgt. 1st Class Alphonso Clark, who also works out of the small recruiting station at a shopping plaza here, pointed out what he feels is another reason for the decline in recruiting: "Parents don't want their kids to go to war and die," he said. "The parents are saying 'Wait. Wait until the war is over. Wait until the troops start coming home.'"

Clark admitted the war on terrorism has worried many young people about joining, and has affected the advice they get from parents and other adults who influence their decisions.

During his tour of duty here, Clark said, two servicemembers from small South Carolina towns he canvasses have been killed in Iraq. "That makes it tough to go back to those areas, and it's hard to face the parents and families in those communities," he said.

Nevertheless, Clark said, there is sense of urgency to his mission. "We still have a war going on," he said. In March, the Army announced it would begin a new advertising campaign to help recruiters reach out to parents, hoping it will convince them that service to the country is a patriotic and heroic duty.

Terrazas, who already has seen one of the television ads, said it's an excellent idea, but that the bottom line in recruiting hasn't changed. "We still have to reach the kids," he said. "They are the ones who make the final decision."

But as tough as the recruiting climate is, Clark said, the Army isn't interested in many of the people who approach the recruiters in the hope of enlisting. Often, he said, those are people "the Army can't touch."

"Nine out 10 will have problems," he explained. "They are the ones that usually want to join the Army because of personal problems. Either they dropped out of school, or they have law violations or something else is wrong. And the problem is that we can't do anything with them.

"They see the Army as a last resort in life," he continued. "The Army should not be their last resort in life," Clark says. "It should have been their first resort.

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