Military recruitment down: Blacks silently protest war
WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq has had an unintended affect on military recruitment. Two years after the invasion of that country, the number of young American men and women volunteering to serve in the U.S. military is declining, with young Blacks leading the way, according to unpublicized studies conducted for the Pentagon.
Recent reports indicate that growing opposition to the Iraq war, as well as fear of death or injury in a questionable cause, are beginning to have a serious effect on U.S. Army and National Guard recruitment. This, despite bleak economic prospects for great numbers of youth and more enticing cash bonuses offered to all recruits.
The Army appears to be entering a prolonged recruiting slump, the studies show. For their part, Blacks have grown far less willing to join the Army, citing fear of being sent to fight the war in Iraq, in which they don't believe.
"More African Americans identify having to fight for a cause they don't support as a barrier to military service," a report completed in August 2004 by GfK Custom Research on "U.S. Military Image," concluded. It also said attitudes toward the Army among all groups of American youth have grown more negative in recent years.
"In the past, barriers were about inconvenience or preference for another life choice," the study said. "Now they have switched to something quite different: fear of death or injury."
Blacks make up about 23 percent of today's active-duty Army, but the share of Blacks in the recruit classes of recent years dropped. From 22.7 percent at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the share slid to 19.9 percent in 2002; 16.4 percent in 2003 and 15.9 percent last year, according to figures provided by Army Recruiting Command and cited in published reports. The slide has continued, dropping to 13.9 percent as of Feb. 9 of this year.
Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said recently that the current, reduced level of Black recruits more closely reflects the percentage of young Blacks in the eligible population, which is reduced by the high incarceration rate of young Black males. "Our strategy of being representative of America is working," he said.
Fear of combat also is a leading reason fewer young women are choosing the Army, the studies say. Although female soldiers are barred by law from assignments in direct combat, they nonetheless have found themselves under attack by the resistance in Iraq, and 32 women have died.
The U.S. military has increased incentives for young people entering uniform service, as well as for soldiers who extend their tours of duty. New Army recruits can earn college scholarships of up to $70,000, and experienced special forces soldiers are being offered re-enlistment bonuses of up to $150,000.
The Army, which has met its manpower goals every year since 1990, has fallen behind in 2005. Through the first five months of a budget year that begins in October, the Army is about six percent behind schedule toward fulfilling this year's goal.
The Army National Guard is having even greater difficulty. The Guard wanted to recruit 63,000 new members this year, in part to make up for a shortfall in 2004. However, four months into the budget year, by the end of January, it had signed up only 12,800 men and women, 24 percent below its target.
The Marine Corps failed to meet its recruiting goal for the second straight month in February, the first time it has fallen short for two successive months in more than a decade. The Marines missed their February objective by some 6.5 percent. A spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command told a journalist, "It is a challenging recruiting environment right now."
Young Blacks, and women in particular, "are marching away from offers to join the army," according to an article by Robert Burns of Associated Press, a trend that suggests "the military's largest service may be entering a prolonged recruiting slump at a time when it is trying to expand its ranks."
Statistically, fear is about twice as strong among potential recruits as it was in 2000, the study said. That and other studies, all of which are posted on an obscure Defense Department website, cited the Iraq war as a major turnoff for many.
A July 2004 study of parents' influence on young people of recruiting age found that Black parents have more say in their child's career decisions than is the case with White parents. Also, Black parents trust the military less and have more moral objections to military service and to war.
"I obtained the rank of sergeant while I was in," Hunter College graduate student and former Marine Corps recruiter told the broadcast "Democracy Now!" March 18. "And the way I obtained that rank was by recruiting someone into the Marines. They have quota systems. And by getting that one guy to join the Marines, it helped me to get promoted to sergeant.
"So now, I mean, my conscience got to me. Also, I'm just opposed to American imperialism in this war. And I want it to end. From my experience in the military, how they dehumanize you, how they desensitize you, they make your enemy look like an object. They make human beings look like objects. And I'm opposed to that," said Mr. Dugan.
Explaining the drop-off, Army officials point to the improving national economy that offers more jobs, as well as the often cited concern about the war in Iraq.
Females also are getting harder to recruit, with the share of females in Army recruiting classes falling for four years running, from 21.6 percent in 2001 to 19.2 percent last year. It has slipped still further this year to 17.1 percent.
"Over time, females are seeing less benefits to joining the Army and more barriers, particularly combat-related reasons," concluded another study done for the Army last spring by the market research firm Millward Brown. And another study cited a survey that said 50 percent of youth rate the Army as their last choice for a career.
"There is a lot of work to be done, and it will take a lot of time to make major changes in the Army experience and the Army's image," that study concluded. "Risks of military service, and particularly the Army, are perceived to far outweigh the rewards for the vast majority of youth."