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Army Recruitment in May Expected to Fall Short


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Army releases its May recruiting numbers today, and an advance report in the Army Times suggests recruiters have fallen short of their goal for the fourth month in a row. In some cities, recruiters have been frustrated by an increasingly anti-military mood, as NPR's Martin Kaste reports from one of those cities, Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

Sergeant Jeff Due spends a lot of time handing out business cards.

Sergeant JEFF DUE (US Army): Hey, what's going on, man? You ever think about military service?

Unidentified Man: Nuh-uh.

Sgt. DUE: Do you ever want to talk about it and find out what you can do for your future?

Unidentified Man: No, I don't care.

KASTE: Today the shaved-headed recruiter is working a job fair in the Seattle Mariners ballpark. With 14 years in the Army, he says this is the hardest job he's had.

Sgt. DUE: My whole military career, I've known success. I come in recruiting, and now I'm experiencing failure, failure and more failure. You know, I've never known failure at this level.

KASTE: Dew seems a natural salesman. He has an eager handshake and a ready sense of humor, but he's quick to tell you that recruiting has worn him down.

Sgt. DUE: So I get slammed doors. You have, you know, people hanging up on the phone, tell you off on the phone. You have your supervisors on you, `We need people, we need people,' so there's that stress. And so it's a very stressful environment.

KASTE: The situation isn't helped by the fact that Due was assigned to Seattle, a liberal city with a strong anti-war sentiment. But as the Iraq War drags on, things have got worse. The Army's downtown recruiting office has missed its goal 25 out of the past 26 months, and right now, they're barely hitting 50 percent of their monthly goals.

(Soundbite of school corridor activity)

Unidentified Woman #1: ...Grout to the main office please. Ethan Grout(ph) to the main office.

KASTE: Just a few blocks from the Army recruiting office is Garfield High School, proud alma mater of Jimi Hendrix and home to the Purple Haze Ultimate Frisbee Team. This should be prime hunting ground for recruiters. After all, Hendrix himself joined the Army. But not anymore, says junior Morgan True.

MORGAN TRUE (Student): I don't see them. They don't bother me. If they were like actively trying to recruit me, I'd make some snide comment about anti-war this, anti-war that and be like, `Yeah, you guys are weak.'

KASTE: In fact, Garfield's Parent-Teacher-Student Association voted last month to bar recruiters from school. PTA co-president Amy Hagopian says it's doubly important to keep the recruiters out now that they've been falling behind their quotas.

Ms. AMY HAGOPIAN (PTA Co-President): They are becoming increasingly aggressive and desperate. They follow kids down the hall. They chase them. They call them repeatedly at home. So we feel that's inappropriate behavior.

KASTE: The PTA vote was purely symbolic. Schools that get federal aid are required to let recruiters in. But when the recruiters showed up on campus last week, the school district gave them a police escort.

Unidentified Woman #2: Shawn, there's nothing in the computer to let me know you're part time.

KASTE: Things are very different at Richland High east of the Cascade Mountains.

(Soundbite of from school)

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.

KASTE: Richland is a small town near a federal nuclear weapons facility, and the football team here is called the Bombers. Career counselor Mary Kaye Hergert says she welcomes military recruiters.

Ms. MARY KAYE HERGERT (Career Counselor): I really see them, in a lot of ways, as if they were my visiting colleagues.

KASTE: Hergert, who wears her school ID on an Army lanyard, says recruiters come in at least once a week, and sometimes they hold special events.

Ms. HERGERT: They have contests where they will climb this rock wall and they hook them all up with the harnesses, which is really fun for the kids. We've had military bands come in and provide entertainment for our kids during lunch.

KASTE: She says recruiters don't use high-pressure tactics at Richland because they don't have to. She says the cooperative relationship they have makes for calmer, more informed career decisions. Bill Pierce, a civilian public affairs official for the Army, says recruiters have had an easier time of it in the suburbs and rural areas.

Mr. BILL PIERCE (Civilian Public Affairs Official, Army): One way to tell is that if you look at the lists of people that have been injured or killed in Iraq, you can see that a large percentage of them are from smaller towns.

KASTE: He won't offer any theories about how this is affecting the Army's demographics, but in Seattle, Sergeant Due says he believes that if big-city recruiting continues to be this bad, it's only a matter of time before Americans see the return of the draft. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.