The U.S. military's personnel woes

From desertions to a range of recruiting problems, the Army finds itself fighting a P.R. campaign on multiple fronts.

Published May 19, 2005 6:13PM (EDT)

With U.S. soldiers continuing to get wounded and killed in Iraq, military recruiters have seen the number of young people willing to risk their lives overseas decline. On top of which, troops are going AWOL -- 5,133 at the Pentagon's last count -- while thousands more, according to a report in the UK Independent, are calling the GI Rights Hotline every month for advice on how to leave the Army. And this week, members of the Realignment and Closure Commission told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Pentagon's intended base closures will put a further dent in recruitment. Consolidating National Guard and Reserve members onto fewer bases, some of which are located in remote locations, could create longer commuting times for part-time soldiers, which would make recruiting more difficult, Commissioner James Bilbray said, according to USA Today.

To compensate for the military's declining popularity, recruiters have stepped up efforts on campuses in recent months -- but have met with resistance from universities, some of which have a case pending in federal court to bar recruiters from campus on the grounds that the military discriminates against gays.

Some recruiters, under immense pressure to fill quotas, have resorted to dishonest and illegal tactics to entice young people to enlist, including covering up recruits' criminal records and threatening them with arrest for skipping an appointment. Tomorrow, the Army will suspend recruiting efforts for one day in a "values stand down" -- after a number of troubling reports of recruiting misconduct nationwide -- to refresh recruiters on proper procedure.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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