Military recruiters target schools strategically
Page 3 of 4 -- In other schools, the people who fill those same influential roles serve as advocates for the military.
At McDonough, guidance counselor Wanda Welch, who notes that her son recently completed four years in the Air Force, talks of the virtues of defending the country. Sitting near military posters and brochures, she says she appreciates the services recruiters give to the school and tells students that "if they don't know what they want to do, enlisting can be a good choice."
At McLean, counselor Isobel Rahn, who notes that she came of age amid the Vietnam War protests, says the school requires recruiters to sign in like any other outsider because "we protect our kids."
Sitting near a poster announcing visits from 23 colleges in the coming two weeks, she says she tells students that the military offers benefits but that "the con in 2004 is that you can get killed."
Over the past year, as casualties in Iraq have filled the news, recruiting has become much more difficult. For the 2003-04 recruiting year, which ended in September, the Army's active-duty and reserves recruiting effort narrowly met its quota, but the Army National Guard missed its goal of 56,000 soldiers by about 5,000 -- its first shortfall in a decade.
"I think Iraq has hurt recruiting," said Sergeant Kevin Bidwell, who commands the Army recruiting station that includes McDonough High. "People automatically think that as soon as they join up, they're going to go over there."
Bidwell said he tells prospects that such a fear is a "misperception,because objectively you don't know for sure. The Army is a million strong, and if you look at statistics over there, there's under 100,000 from all four branches." Actually, about 140,000 US troops are serving in Iraq.
The number of students who go from the halls of McDonough to boot camp is substantial: 15 of its 322 seniors last year had decided to enlist by graduation, according to a state website. Local recruiters say that number will rise as they continue to contact targeted McDonough students over the next two years.
Far fewer students enlist coming out of McLean. Precise statistics are not available, but Rahn said that each year between three and seven of her roughly 400 seniors join the military.
Those familiar with military recruiting say lower family incomes make McDonough students more likely to enlist, but that marketing also plays a major role.
Richard I. Stark Jr., a retired Army officer who once worked on personnel issues for the secretary of defense, said he thinks the targeted hard sell draws in students who otherwise might not join, while failing to find potential recruits at other schools.
"It's hard to imagine that it doesn't influence the proclivities of those people to make a judgment for themselves about the military," Stark said. "Once you start [recruiting at a school heavily], it's like a snowball. As more people from the school join the military, they go back on leave, walk around in their spiffy uniforms, brag about accomplishments. That generates interest by more recruits." Continued...