U.S. Army Misses Enlistment Goal, Counter-Recruitment Efforts Rise

Fear of Middle East deployment, campaigns against recruiting affect numbers.

The U.S. military is looking for a few good men and women — or a few thousand.

According to the May 16 issue of Newsweek, the Army continues to fall behind its enlistment quotas, and missed its April goal by 42 percent, recruiting only 3,821 of the 6,600 sought. Although recruitment was up from September through January, this is the third month in a row that the Army has failed to meet its goals.

More field recruiters have been dispatched to high school and college campuses, but many are encountering trepidation from potential recruits concerned about being deployed to the Middle East, where there have been over 1,600 U.S. troop casualties since the war commenced. "Our recruiters have experienced a lot of apprehension from recruits with regard to serving in the war on Iraq," Army public-information specialist Julia Bobick told MTV News. "Parents also aren't exactly sure what it means to serve in the Army today and what that means for their child."

Lower recruitment numbers could also be a result of a rising number of counter-recruitment programs springing up across the country. In March, students across the United States launched a national week of resistance to mark the second anniversary of the Iraq war and staged protests against military recruiters on college campuses.

Chris Dugan, a former Marine, is now active in campaigning against the men who recruited him when he was just a senior in high school. "These recruiters psychoanalyze you and pitch you a story," he told The Village Voice in January. "They have a quota, and if their quota isn't met, it's their ass. They'll do whatever they can to get you in."

Now a graduate student at Hunter College in New York, Dugan is also an active member of the Campus Antiwar Network, and he has spoken openly about his distaste for President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Dugan explained that the act includes a mandate for public high schools to turn a list of students' names, addresses and other personal information over to military recruiters unless the students or parents sign a form requesting that the data be withheld.

Parents, too, are seemingly becoming wearier of the tactics being used by recruiters. In February 2004, John Cullen of Claremont, California, founded Parents Against Military Recruiting on Our Campuses after his son was approached by a recruiter during a middle school career day. According to Cullen, toy dog tags and pro-military posters were distributed to the kids as gifts used to entice interest in pursuing a military career once they reached high school.

"To allow the military to recruit kids [as young as 11] is pretty close to criminal for me," Cullen told MTV News. "These recruiters should really look to their conscience, and at the very least be able to tell those kids the whole truth — not just a slanted or partial truth — and that's not happening."

Regardless of recent headway made by counter-recruitment initiatives, Cullen said programs like his still haven't hit the kind of mainstream visibility and momentum needed to address the issue. He hopes his crusade will open the minds of Americans who may have closed themselves off from seeing alternative viewpoints regarding military service.

"When you present a sanitized view of the military with no opposing viewpoint, that's a lie. And it's happening in schools across the country — and, for the most part, nobody seems to be questioning it," he said.

A Los Angeles U.S. Army recruiter was contacted by MTV News but declined to comment on Dugan and Cullen's allegations or the Army's current recruitment procedure.

With interest from fresh faces declining, the government is also looking to their old faithful to fill the need, pursuing those who have already enlisted in military service and are willing to continue to fight for the cause.

Launched by the Pentagon in July 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Operation Blue to Green active-duty transfer program encourages service members in the Air Force and Navy to trade in their blue uniforms for the Army's green combat attire. The crossover program has managed to transfer only 189 soldiers this year, with 213 more filling out the paperwork. The less-than-stellar numbers are dramatically lower than the original goal of 3,500 men and women anticipated to make the switch. Cash bonuses and other enlistment incentives continue to rise as the Army attempts to generate more interest in the struggling program.

While Army recruiters have a daunting task ahead, Bobick said they remain cautiously optimistic that they will still reach their annual goal. "We are doing everything we can right now to try and meet our recruitment [needs]. Our recruiters are working really hard to find the young men and women who want to serve this country."