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Recruiting Picture Murky in Post-Sept. 11 World

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2002 – Recruiters said it is too early to gauge whether the events of Sept. 11 will translate into more young Americans wanting to join the military.

In the days and weeks following the attacks in New York and the Pentagon, people calling toll-free recruiting numbers or entering recruiting Web sites went up dramatically, said recruiters in all services.

"The number of people calling our toll-free number increased and the hits on our Web site spiked," said Lt. Ingrid Mueller, a Navy Recruiting Command spokeswoman. "Since then, the numbers have leveled out, but at a higher level than previously."

But many of the calls are from veterans asking how to get back in, or older Americans asking for information or from Americans just wanting to tell the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard that they are proud of them.

"We love these calls," Mueller said, "but the calls are not coming from that group of young men and women we need in the military."

But these calls indicate a change in the way Americans regard the military, and this may indicate a different recruiting environment in the months and years to come. One aspect of recruiting during the war on terrorism, for instance, is the very nature of the conflict works against a sudden surge of enlistments.

The war on terrorism is not World War II. In December 1941, men swamped recruiting stations around the United States to enlist. The crush was so great that many recruiting stations had to tell the men to go home and wait for their draft notices -- the military had no way to absorb, process and train so many enlistees. The war the United States entered following the attack on Pearl Harbor needed mass armies, navies and air forces. The U.S. military grew from around 1.5 million in the beginning of 1942 to more than 10 million by September 1945.

The active duty U.S. military before Sept. 11, 2001, was about 1.4 million; the military end strength in September 2002 will be about 1.4 million. In other words, there will be no change in the size of the force. Add to this the fact that people enlisting on any given day may not have to leave home for up to a year.

DoD officials point out that the U.S. military is already the best, most potent military force in the world. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the U.S. military does not need more people at this time. But while the number of people in the military will remain constant, he says, how they are configured will change.

Given this situation, enlisting in the military is still an option, but not a mass outlet for Americans who wish to help in the war on terror. Recruiters are not going to find recruiting for the military to be easy, although Sept. 11 may make the atmosphere for recruiting easier.

"The thinking in many places is that having the American people think highly of the military will be good for recruiting," said Air Force Capt. Gwen Rutherford, a recruiting specialist in DoD's personnel and readiness office.

She said that following Sept. 11 and subsequent actions in Afghanistan, many Americans see the military as "noble people doing great things."

Americans who grew up after the draft ended in 1973 are less likely to know anything about the military firsthand, Rutherford said. "It's not so much that they were opposed to the military, they just didn't know anything about it," she said.

It is possible these Americans are more apt now to recommend the military because of its reputation in the days that have followed Sept. 11. Again, Rutherford pointed out, interest has not translated in signed contracts.

"There's nothing concrete," she said. "The data is not there yet."

But anecdotally, recruiters are meeting people they haven't in the past. Marine Sgt. James Covington, a Marine Corps Recruiting Command spokesman in Quantico, Va., said young men and women who ordinarily go straight into college are speaking with recruiters. "This does not mean they are signing up, but they are showing interest," he said.

Rutherford said her research agrees with this anecdotal evidence. "Our data show that more people have thought about military service," she said.

"It's still a very challenging recruiting environment," SSgt. John Asselin, an Air Force Recruiting Service spokesman. "We're still competing with Fortune 500 companies for the best people."

Asselin said recruiters still have to dig for qualified young men and women. He said the service continues to make its goals, but the life of the recruiters continues to be challenging. "This is not going to change any time in the near future," he said.

All services reported an increase in "walk ins" at their stations following Sept. 11. Army recruiters noticed an increase in young men wanting to become Ranger or Special Forces soldiers. In fact, the Army introduced a test program to recruit nonprior service recruits into the Green Berets. About 400 of these enlistees will go through 80 weeks of training. This program was in the works before Sept. 11, said Army officials.

President Bush has said Americans are coming together following Sept. 11. They are. The increased interest in the military is just one example of the phenomenon. But increased interest does not mean young men and women are clamoring to get into the military.

"Patriotism is a motivator in getting people into the military," said the Navy's Mueller. "But so is training, and so is college money, and so is improving your situation. The military has to continue to offer these benefits."

No one in recruiting is going to lessen efforts to find and enlist qualified young people. "It's good that Americans are interested in their military, but that really isn't making our jobs any easier yet," Asselin said.

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