Recruiters Discuss Problems with Top DoD Officials
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 12, 2000 The department's top recruiters spoke their minds recently about the good and bad of their business and made powerful pitches to military and civilian DoD officials.
During a roundtable discussion at the Pentagon with Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon and others, the recruiters exchanged ideas and information. They addressed what DoD calls its five most pressing recruiting issues: access to high schools, spouses' quality of life program, youth attitudes toward the military, recruiting on college campuses, and the value of local vs. national media advertising.
Army Staff Sgt. Feliece Y. Cortez took the lead in responding to the high school access question. Assigned to the recruiting station in Anderson, Ind., when she was selected as Recruiter of the Year, Cortez is now with the Recruit the Recruiter Team, Army Recruiting Command, Fort Knox, Ky.
"What is access -- maybe 15 minutes in a corner during lunch hour? " she asked. "There are schools that don't want to give us any access at all, particularly schools in well-to-do neighborhoods.
"We need to focus on what we can do for the schools instead of what schools can do for us," she said. "I didn't go into the schools as if I'm just trying to recruit -- just wanted the students. I went in as if I had something to offer -- I want to do something for them."
Cortez said only the Navy has a high school ROTC program in the Anderson recruiting area. "Yes, I put in all the Navy people," she said. The room roared with laughter, particularly from her Navy counterparts.
"Everybody has difficulty getting into public high schools. They consider 'access' about 15 minutes once a month," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Green, an Army Reserve guidance counselor at the Los Angeles Recruiting Station. She worked her way into schools by acquainting herself with teachers and counselors who had served in the military.
"I also offered to help in the schools, such as after-school help for students with math and reading," said Green, who served in various supply sergeant jobs and as an observer and controller, including a tour in Somalia, before becoming a recruiter in May 1997.
DoD officials present asked if the $75 per month recruiters are authorized for expenses is sufficient. The resounding response was "No." Some recruiters don't file for reimbursement because the paperwork is so time-consuming and difficult to fill out.
Cortez took the lead again. "They want to know the date, time, what you ate, where you ate it -- everything -- so it gets to the point where I just say, keep your $75," she said. A former installation postal inspector, Cortez said naivete caused her to spend too much of her own money when she began recruiting.
"At first, I didn't realize that I was spending $150 or more a month," she told the gathering. "So I had to put a limit on the amount I spent. The kids will say, 'Hey, Sergeant Cortez, if you take me to lunch, I'll let you talk to me.' I was so naive that I would actually take them to lunch."
She also bought plaques for principals and counselors and hob- nobbed with the mayor and school superintendent to build rapport in the school system and the community.
Air Force Master Sgt. Rowena Reitan said her job is tough because she is responsible for filling physician and dental vacancies in units assigned within the 4th Air Force.
"Most potential recruits are concerned about deployments. Plus, they can make three times more on the outside than they can in the Reserve," said Reitan, assigned to an Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Squadron in San Antonio, Texas. "The ones I do recruit join mostly because of patriotism. They really enjoy the military, however, they want to explore their options on the civilian side."
Most of her recruits are physicians and dentists in residence training. "The problem we're encountering now is the bonus, loan repayment and stipend programs," she told the panel. Coupled with that, a lot of specialties for doctors and dentists have been removed from the recruitment incentive program, and nurses haven't been recruited for nearly two years, she noted.
"We're afraid to tell our recruits that they're eligible for bonuses, loan repayment or stipend money because there's no guarantee," Reitan said.
Recruiting is fun and much easier for Air Force Master Sgt. David C. Anderson, who told the panel that Air Force quality of life is his big selling point.
"I'm lucky to recruit near Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, because I can take potential recruits to the base and show them things like the old and new housing area and the brand new commissary and base exchange," said the former C-130 aircraft engine mechanic. "I also take them to the dining facility, which is like eating in a restaurant. And I tell them the doctors are there for us and that TRICARE works."
Using Anderson's remarks as an entree into TRICARE, de Leon assured the recruiters that DoD is trying to fix TRICARE Remote so it works for them.
"If there is no military treatment facility near where recruiters work, we'll buy you a benefit in the local market -- Blue Cross, Kaiser or another insurance," he promised the recruiters. "This is one of several initiatives for TRICARE Remote to ensure that recruiters are taken care of."
Navy Petty Officer 1st class Martin Colon credits advertising for the success the Navy and Marine Corps are having in recruiting. "There has been a lot more advertising since I became a recruiter three years ago, and it generates a lot of attention," he said.
Colon, Navy Recruiting District New York rookie of the year for 1998-9 and enlisted recruiter of the year for 1999, said he finds many potential recruits want to get into computers or electronics, but many don't qualify. He said he's also surprised by the number of young people who join because they're looking for discipline.
"It's good to have a young man come to your office and tell you, 'I would like to join the Navy because I need some discipline in life.' The college benefits that the Navy offers are great," he said.
College tuition isn't the drawing card it used to be, warned Charles L. Cragin, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. "College tuition programs used to be the gold standard of military recruiting," he noted. "Now, most states have programs for high school graduates to go on to some form of college. The demographics also changed. In 1997, there were 5 million fewer in the pool of 18- to 22-year-olds than during the buildup in the '80s. But that number is starting to come back up."
Retired New York City police officer and Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Gregory J. Satchwell said most of his recruits join because of the Coast Guard mission. His fellow Recruiter of the Year, Petty Officer 1st class Isabel S. Caporale said Coast Guard recruiters have to rely on their personality because "we don't get enough advertisement. We get the advertisement when it comes to a disaster, and that's unfortunate."
"We have no problems going into schools because of the way we approach them," said Caporale, who is credited with achieving 108 percent of the recruitment goal at Newark, N.J., making the recruiting station the Coast Guard's best performer in 1999. "If we had all the benefits that the other services have, we would be way up there. We don't have a lot, but we're very successful."
Other panel members included Alphonso Maldon Jr., assistant secretary of defense for forces management policy; Navy Vice Adm. Patricia A. Tracey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy; Carol DiBattiste, undersecretary of the Air Force; and the service secretaries or their representatives.