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Recruiters Welcome New Age Approach

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WOODBRIDGE, Va., Dec. 8, 2000 – Military recruiters and private industry are in a "war for talent," according to Maj. Gen. Gary L. Parks, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

With a strong economy offering lucrative jobs, he said, military recruiters face a challenging environment. And as the military modernizes with more and more advanced technology, he added, the demand for more capable young men and women increases accordingly.

In light of the recruiting challenge, DoD and the services have taken a number of steps to help attract recruiters, including enlistment bonuses, guaranteed duty stations and shorter service commitments. In early December, the military opened a flagship, hi-tech recruiting station located in one of the nation's mega-malls.

Parks and other military recruiting officials attended the opening ceremony of the Potomac Mills Recruiting Station at Woodbridge, Va. The general and others said they welcomed the new approach and are eager to see how well it works.

"We need to ensure we locate our facilities where the traffic is and where the image of the military is circa 21st century," Parks said. In some cases, he noted, recruiting stations are located within cities and towns "in less desirable places," and they need to be more visible.

"Also, we're looking to equip them with the more modern things that the young people of today relate to as a part of life -- computer kiosks that they can look at and probe, the general said."

Along with featuring enlistment incentives such as educational benefits, Parks recommended that recruiters appeal to young peoples patriotism. He said Marine recruiters, for example, heavily stress the core values of courage, honor and commitment.

Since the nation no longer has a "direct peer competitor," Parks said, the military has "fallen off the scope. It's not a case of people being anti-military, it's just that they may be ignorant of what the United States military offers to young men and women of the future."

He said many corporate leaders, however, do understand and appreciate the fact that the military provides the security needed for economic prosperity. "Our senior elected leadership needs to continue to highlight the values and the fundamentals that have given us the economy that we enjoy today," he said.

Navy Capt. Janet Rustchak, commander, Navy Recruiting Region North, also feels a lack of knowledge about the military is hurting the recruiting effort. The 22-year Navy veteran who's served four recruiting tours said she believes more young people would take advantage of the opportunities offered by the military if they knew what's offered.

Over the past few years, Rustchak said, the Navy has upped the number of recruiters by about 1,000 to about 5,000. "That's going to help," she said, "because we're able to get into smaller communities where we didn't have a presence before."

While educational opportunities and technical training continue to be the main attraction for recruits, some join for the opportunity to travel and do things they most likely wouldn't have the opportunity to do in a civilian career.

A new Navy advertising campaign coming early next year will emphasize the intangibles of military life, Rustchak noted. "Why do people stay in the Navy -- it's not for the money - - it's being a part of something bigger, service to the country, and working with the wonderful folks that you get to work with."

Air Force Col. James 'Doc' Holladay, chief of the Operations Division at the Air Force recruiting headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, said his service has added about 300 more recruiters and up to 300 more will join the recruiting command for a total of 1,650.

"It took a tremendous effort to meet our goal last year," Holladay said. "We took a lot of people out of active duty units to help augment our recruiting force. We also spent a lot more money on advertising. We spent a lot more money on some bonuses. We did what was called a 'surge' so we could put more people into the Air Force in the summer months when they were available to go.

"This year we've done something a little bit different," he added, "we've had a whole lot more people going into the Air Force the first quarter of the year, which is going to make it easier on us downstream. So we think we're going to have a very good year this year."

When Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Pulliam first started recruiting six years ago, he said recruits had fewer choices than they have today. "It was very tough to meet your quotas," he recalled. "I was in a station in Indiana that never made mission collectively. Since I've been here, our station has made mission six months out of the year. A lot of my recruiters have enjoyed individual success.

"The difference, I feel mainly is that we have more selling tools today. The Army has opened a lot of programs. Now the key is to educate our recruiters to be able to talk about the programs."

Pulliam is now station commander at Alexandria Recruiting Station in Virginia. The 14-year Army veteran said his recruiting efforts go beyond focusing on bonuses or other incentives.

"That's the last thing I talk about," Pulliam said. "I get to know a person. I get to trust them. I get to find out their future plans, their short term and long term goals.

"A lot of people still come in the military for the discipline and other military values," he continued. "I think a lot of people don't really know what they want to do when they graduate high school. People still need direction and we have some great opportunities.

The military can be a great stepping stone for young people, Pulliam said. Although many parents still urge their offspring to head for college, he advises potential recruits there are ways to go to college and serve their country at the same time. "That's something we're selling every day," he said.

"Right now, we're offering 100 percent tuition assistance," he said. "You can go to college on-line or you can take classes while you serve, so you can actually obtain that degree, receive that training and be very marketable -- and ahead of your class -- when you get out.

Soldiers throughout the Army have joined the recruiting effort under a program launched by former Sgt. Maj. of the Army Robert Hall. Those who refer people to a recruiting station earn four- day passes, commemorative coins or certificates, Pulliam said.

"Before, everybody just worried about their piece of the pie," he added. "Today, everybody is involved. We run into a lot of people working at discount chain stores in malls making minimum wage bagging groceries or whatever with no benefits. Well, we can give these guys and girls some benefits."

In the past, recruiters put in some incredible hours trying to meet their quotas. Today, Pulliam said, that's not longer recommended. "I have to have time for myself and my family," he explained.

"I try not to work long hours, or weekends, because that presents a bad image. Why would a person want to join an organization that works six and seven days a week from eight-to-eight? I believe in showing people that you can do the job, accomplish the mission, within regular work hours."

Even though recruiting is challenging work, Pulliam said he enjoys his Army career. He said the main reason he stays in the service is because the Army takes care of his family. "The Army gave me the opportunity to purchase a home and have some of the things that I wouldn't have if I hadn't joined.

"No matter how tough, how demanding, how challenging every assignment can be," he concluded, the bottom line is -- my family's happy and that's why I keep serving.

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