Military recruiting makes army of the disadvantaged

Nov. 11, 2004, midnight | By Pria Anand | 19 years, 8 months ago

A Navy poster sits beside a stack of PSAT practice booklets in the Career Center. Against an adjacent wall lie piles of business cards left from the many military recruiters who frequent Blair's hallways. At the front desk is a rack of glossy Army brochures bearing slogans like "the experience of a lifetime" and shining with the faces of confident, clean-cut soldiers far removed from the bloody battlefields many recruits will soon face.

Now more than ever, high school recruiters are under pressure, with the military seeking an increase of 30,000 troops over the next four years. Like colleges and other school advertisers, the military aims only to maximize effectiveness in its recruiting strategies. However, military recruiters are pushing a high-risk "product" on Blazers, so unlike other advertisers, they cannot count success merely in return—military recruiters must also consider the ethics of their selling tactics.

Core demographics

Military recruiters' strategies have the hallmarks of more traditional advertising, and recruiters are quick to identify their core demographic of students to whom the service is an easy sell. Enlistees in the military generally come from the lowest economic brackets and have consigned themselves to military service for the simple reason that they have few other options, a fact recruiters capitalize on to meet recruiting quotas.

According to MCPS statistics from 2002, the percent of Blazers who enlist after high school is 1.5 times the County average. MCPS statistics also show that students in Downcounty schools, which continue to be a hotbed of recruiting activity for the enlisted ranks, are twice as likely to receive free and reduced meals (FARMs) and almost twice as likely to enlist after high school as the rest of the county.

These skewed demographics suggest that the enlistees who fight and die for their country are not representative of the population they are defending. According to a 2003 Department of Defense survey, most recruits come from homes where the average income is several thousand dollars lower than the national average. Evidently, the choice of risking one's life for a living has become a burden borne exclusively by the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Risky business

An even more frightening disparity is evident in the ranks of the military: According to the Department of Defense, enlistees, who account for 86 percent of the active military service, come from consistently lower-income backgrounds than their officers. The recruits who take the most risk are inherently those with the least voice. Marines Sergeant Edwin Scott, a recruiter at Blair as well as the wealthier Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC) and Whitman, says that he has come to expect that the recruits from B-CC and Whitman will consist almost entirely of commissioned officers. Still, recruiters continue to push commissioned officer programs at already privileged schools; across the county at Richard Montgomery, where students are slightly over half as likely to receive FARMs as Blazers, recruiters provide the Career Center with brochures almost exclusively advertising the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and officer academies.

With the No Child Left Behind Act in effect, the responsibility for more balanced advertising falls solely to recruiters. The act mandates that all public high schools either grant recruiters entrance or run the risk of losing federal funding. Recruiters can now approach students in hallways, talk to students in the Career Center and set up tables in the SAC. According to recruiter Sergeant Brian Ransom, even that may not be enough—the Army hopes to organize additional presentations through senior English classes, he says.

This increased visibility is clearly not entirely negative, as the military does provide opportunities for generous scholarships. However, although the military presents a viable option for some students, it still holds an ethical obligation to all potential recruits.

The military carries a responsibility beyond that of the average advertiser because of its high-risk nature. Whereas other advertisers are free to make their pitch to the most receptive audience, recruiters must make an effort not to perpetuate a destructive cycle of disadvantaged enlistment through selective recruiting. Responsible recruiting may not completely equalize the demographics of the military, but it is a much-needed first step.

Pria Anand. Pria is a senior. She loves Silver Chips, movies and, most likely, you. More »

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