Services Work to Boost Number of Hispanic Recruits
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2000 As America becomes more diverse, the military services are working hard to keep pace and offer opportunities for everyone.
The services are working particularly hard to increase the number of Hispanic recruits. The Army, for instance, added more than $10 million to its recruiting budget this year for advertising aimed at Hispanic audiences, said Army Maj. Kathleen Johnson, chief of the Army Recruiting Command's Local Advertising and Promotions Division at Fort Knox, Ky.
All the services are targeting advertising to markets with high Hispanic populations. They're running ads in Spanish and English in publications with high Hispanic readership, as well as running Spanish ads on several major Spanish-speaking television networks in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Military recruiting representatives noted the Spanish-language ads aren't necessarily targeting the potential recruits, most of whom have fine English skills. Rather, they're intended for family members and educators who influence young peoples' decisions to join a military service.
"We're more likely to encounter 'influencers' -- moms, dads, coaches, educators -- who communicate predominantly in Spanish," said Master Sgt. Tom Clements, a spokesman for Air Force Recruiting Service at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. "Annual surveys of our basic trainees say the vast majority of our recruits still discuss their options with family members," he added, highlighting the importance of reaching both the influencers and potential recruits.
Most of the people entering the military today were educated in American schools, but that's not necessarily the case among their parents and older family members, said Marine Staff Sgt. Bruce Katz, advertising chief for Marine Corps Recruiting Command at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
The Army also advertises in Spanish "to be respectful of the Hispanic culture," Johnson added. In addition, some of the services have Spanish-language versions of their recruiting pamphlets and literature, and all literature is "designed to show our cultural mix," said Master Sgt. Juan Demiranda, an Air Force Recruiting Command account executive.
Service representatives also participate in conferences of major Hispanic professional and cultural organizations. They give presentations, and they set up booths so interested individuals can meet with Hispanic service members and learn about opportunities in the military.
Military representatives also participate in the annual conferences of such organizations as the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Convention, the United Council of LaRaza and the Mexican American Engineers Society.
"Through our involvement with these organizations and the opportunities through their national conferences and conventions, the Marine Corps is able to present what it has to offer a young American of Hispanic descent," Katz said. His Air Force and Army counterparts echoed the sentiment.
"The Army is proud to attempt to connect to the American public at this grass-roots level," Johnson said.
The Army, going even further than the other services to attract nonnative-English speakers, helps some recruits learn basic English before they report to basic training. Most are from Puerto Rico, but Army Capt. Ed Weissing, commander of Company E, Defense Language Institute English Language Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, said the center currently has students who speak Korean and even Ukrainian.
Weissing explained the programs purpose is to improve recruits English skills to the level they need to be successful in military basic and technical training. He said the programs 500 students per year take an average of 14 weeks' training to reach that level of competency.
The other services require recruits to be fluent in English before enlistment. "So many of our career fields are so very technical that English proficiency is really very important," the Air Force's Clements said.
The Marine Corps' Katz noted that once recruits are accepted for enlistment, "they're going to be communicated to in English."
The Army and Navy also try to place available Spanish-speaking recruiters into vacancies in areas with high populations of Spanish speakers. "Our recruiters say it's always more effective to be able to communicate well with somebody," Johnson said. "When you're dealing with influencers it really helps to be able to speak their language."
Hispanic Americans comprise 11.7 percent of the population. The services' efforts are paying off in numbers and increased diversity of the force.
The Navy and Marine Corps lead the pack. So far in fiscal 2000, 15.5 percent and 14.9 percent of their recruits, respectively, have been Hispanic. Hispanics have totaled 10.6 percent of this years Army recruits. The Air Force lags slightly at 7.4 percent.
"The Air Force could be doing a little better, but the encouraging news is we've about doubled our percentage of Hispanic recruits in the past seven or eight years," Clements said.