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Recruiters Air Job Challenges for Cohen

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 21, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen listened as DoD recruiters told him what life is like as they try to attract qualified people to the military.

The 17 recruiters sat with Cohen, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Rudy de Leon and the service secretaries during a roundtable discussion in the Pentagon July 1. Later, Cohen recognized each of the 17 as outstanding recruiters for fiscal 1998.

The recruiters answered questions posed by de Leon. The themes included their advice to fellow recruiters and the key concerns of prospective recruits. To the latter, all agreed, for example, the GI Bill and the College Fund are important tools for attracting recruits.

Virtually all agreed that stressing "intangibles" is also important. Perhaps ironically, though, patriotism isn't among them, according to some.

A Marine recruiter said he doesn't "sell" the Marine Corps but talks about such intangibles as the self-discipline, personal challenges and sense of accomplishment his service offers. "I can give them a million dollars to go to college, but if they don't have the self-discipline to get up at 7 a.m. to do it, then it doesn't mean a thing," the Marine said.

One recruiter told the secretary that no one enters his office out of patriotism. "They are there for the college money, pure and simple," he said.

The recruiters told the secretary they put in 100 to 110 hours during an "average" workweek. They said they put in long hours because they're competing with private industry for quality recruits. "It's tough getting someone to enlist when [they think] all you can offer them is college money and the chance to deploy to hot spots around the world," one recruiter said.

All present stressed the need for all recruiters to be honest with potential recruits. "I always tell my recruiters that if they have to lie to get someone into the service, then they've done a disservice to the recruit, themselves and the service," a recruiter said. Every other recruiter in the room nodded assent.

Recruiters also told Cohen that recruiter professionalism also plays a large role in getting prospective recruits to commit. "In many places, you are the only connection these recruits have to the military," a recruiter said. "You have to look and act professional. These [recruits] hear from their counterparts that they are crazy if they enlist in the military. You, as the recruiter, have to be someone they can emulate."

Recruiters said a perceived "benefits drop" is working against them, especially in areas with many military retirees. Veterans and retirees perceive eroding benefits and counsel young people not to join, said one recruiter, who thanked Cohen for his efforts in scrapping the Redux retirement system. Repeal, he said, could ease recruiting problems by showing the sincere intent to deal squarely with military benefits.

The 1986 Redux system pays retirees 40 percent of basic pay after 20 years of service. Cohen's change, part of the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Bill before Congress, would return retirement to 50 percent after 20 years.

During the roundtable, Cohen thanked the recruiters for their candid views and told them it is DoD's policy to put its best people into recruiting.

"You are the best symbol we have in the communities for getting people to join the military," he said. "We have the best military in the world, and we need to continue to have the best military. Without you, we can't do that."

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