Army tries to recruit minorities
05-01-2005, 04:47 AM
Army tries to recruit minorities
Interesting to follow up on... liberator style...
Army aiming to enlist minorities
By SUSAN ELAN
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: April 29, 2005)
At the end of the sunlit corridor leading to Putnam Valley High School's cafeteria, Sgt. 1st Class Terry Messman Jr. and Sgt. Ronald Colon stand at a table spread with glossy Army brochures, recruitment cards, and chunky, black ballpoint pens emblazoned in gold letters with the words "An Army of One."
"What about the war going on?" asks Justin Otero, a slender, 17-year-old senior with curly hair who has stopped on his way to lunch to look over the materials and chat with the camouflage-clad recruiters.
Messman, a 32-year-old with 13 years of service, concedes that some soldiers wind up in Iraq, but the benefits of enlisting outweigh the risks, he said.
"Is it 100 percent that you would go to Iraq? Absolutely not," Messman says. "The Army can pay for your college, help you get training and make you more physically fit. You'll be much more marketable when you come out."
Otero is exactly the sort of candidate Army recruiters are searching for as they struggle to shore up declining enlistment figures. Minority recruitment in particular has fallen off sharply because of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq and disillusionment with Bush administration policies, Army and Defense Department studies show.
To counteract anti-war sentiment and beef up forces without reinstating the draft, the Army is spending $8 million to develop and produce advertisements promoting enlistment. Four new commercials aimed at black and Hispanic young people and their parents began running last week.
The commercials build on a 30 percent increase in the number of recruiters, higher educational incentives and bonuses, and promotional gimmicks that include Hummers blaring rap music in inner-city neighborhoods and free video games at recruiting stations. On May 9, the Army plans to triple its effort to reach mothers by adding commercials on Court TV, the Food Network, Oxygen and others.
"When young adults are making the decision to join the Army, there is no one they seek approval from more than their parents," said Col. Thomas Nickerson, director of strategic outreach for the U.S. Army Accessions Command.
But many of the two dozen black and Hispanic students, parents, religious and community leaders interviewed locally say the Army recruiting blitz won't overcome their deep opposition to the war and Bush administration policies. Targeting blacks and Hispanics for recruitment, at a time when more than 1,570 service members have been killed and another 13,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a cynical attempt to capitalize on persistent racial and economic inequities in American society, some say.
Otero, who plans a career as a personal fitness trainer, said his parents have told him they don't want their son, the first member of the family to graduate from high school, enlisting. His mother, born in Puerto Rico, made Otero cancel an appointment at the Army recruiting center in Peekskill after she learned recruiters had called the family home from a list of seniors provided by the high school.
"They have the temerity to ask those who live in communities with the fewest services, the least amount of investment in the educational system and the least job creation to possibly give up their lives when most people don't believe in this war," said Ernest Davis, the mayor of Mount Vernon and an African-American. "They reach out in the guise of opportunity when they don't provide opportunities in civilian life. We should be extricating ourselves (from Iraq) instead of spending trillions there and continuing to cut opportunities at home."
The Rev. Rafael Garcia of the Summerfield United Methodist Church in Port Chester said Hispanic immigrants have been lured into joining the military because they are told it will help them become U.S. citizens more quickly. Unfortunately, too many become citizens posthumously, he said.
"Minorities are usually the first put into combat," he said. "It is why we have such heavy losses."
The number of noncitizen enlistees in the U.S. military has fallen nearly 20 percent from fiscal year 2001, with much of the decline in the past year alone. Some 142 noncitizen troops have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Noncitizen casualty rates represent 8 percent of the total, despite being less than 3 percent of the active duty military personnel.
Despite the risks, some minority leaders say military service remains one of the rare avenues of opportunity for the young because of the lack of educational, training and job opportunities available in the private sector.
"Racism hasn't been eliminated," said Ernest Prince, president of the Urban League of Westchester. "It is still very difficult, even in Westchester County, to get companies and businesses to accept African-American males. Many young men have to choose between unemployment or military service as an opportunity to earn a living and raise a family. Unfortunately, joining the military involves going to war."
Nickerson, who is based in Fort Knox, Ky., expects the Army's new "tighter message" pitching "the tangible and intangible benefits" of a military career to overcome what marketing studies describe as "a lack of perceived legitimacy of the war in Iraq" and "strong concerns relating to mistrust of the military and recruiters" among young blacks and Hispanics.
Ads designed for blacks will emphasize "job skills that can help in civilian life," said Nickerson, an African-American. Hispanics will hear more about "leadership development."
Nickerson, 47, is the ideal spokesman. As a sophomore at Cumberland College in Kentucky, he traded a track and field scholarship for an ROTC scholarship "to make academics a priority." After 25 years in the service, including a stint as a company commander during the first Gulf War, he now is the Army's equivalent of national advertising director with control over a $240 million annual budget.
"I do not believe I ever would have had the opportunity to be national advertising director of a major corporation," Nickerson said.
James Murphy of South Nyack, a Vietnam veteran who works as a school administrator in Manhattan, spends his spare time helping students, many of whom are minorities, obtain job training and money for college without enlisting. Murphy, 59, who is white, is part of a growing network of "counter-recruiters" who volunteer to speak to students as an antidote to recruitment pitches.
Boosts in enlistment and re-up bonuses are making his job tougher.
"One of my former students who made it through a tour in Iraq is getting ready to be discharged," said Murphy, who served in the Air Force in the mid-1960s. "His VRB (Variable Re-enlistment Bonus) has gone from $6,000 to $15,000, and now it is $24,000. That is hard for a young guy with a wife and baby to pass up. All he really wants is to go back to school."
Many parents conduct counter-recruiting at home. William Cradle Jr., who served with the Air Force in Vietnam from 1968-69, advised his two sons, now 30 and 29, to steer clear of the military when they were in high school. To ensure that they did so, Cradle and his wife paid for their sons' undergraduate education. The young men paid for their graduate degrees.
"I told them not to serve after what I experienced in Vietnam as a black man," said Cradle, who lives in White Plains and works as a teacher's assistant for the school system there. "I came back from Vietnam in 1969 hoping for a better opportunity and found nothing changed. There was still racism, and it was just as strong here as between white and black soldiers in Vietnam. Minorities were the first ones put on the frontline to fight. War is legal genocide."
Back at Putnam Valley High School, Otero stops after lunch for a second chat with the recruiters.
"We're not just doing enlistment," Messman said as he hands him a recruitment card. "We're trying to help you achieve your goals."
Otero leans over to fill it out and said, "I'm definitely interested. I'll try talking about it to my mom."
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