The corona virus crisis has been a double-edged sword for military recruitment in the United States. On the one hand, the tightening of the labor market contributed to higher rates of retention than the Army brass expected, meaning that many soldiers decided to reenlist this spring rather than pursue civilian employment when their terms of service expired. On the other hand, recruiting stations across the country have had to shut down to comply with social distancing guidelines, limiting recruiters’ access to young people and inhibiting the “kneecap-to-kneecap” conversations recruiters widely acknowledge to be essential to their work.
Less than one percent of the Armed Forces’ target demographic — seventeen- to twenty-four-year-olds — is actively interested in a military career. After a “kneecap-to-kneecap” encounter with a recruiter, whether at a recruiting station or a school event, probability of enlistment climbs to more than 50 percent, according to the Army.
The reasons for this have been well-documented by anti-recruitment activists for decades. Recruiters, who are expected to meet regular enlistment quotas, aggressively pursue young people who express interest, generally attempting to separate them from parents, teachers, counselors, and others who might advocate for civilian careers.
Gary Ghirardi – OpEd – June 2020
Back in May of 2020, I caught an interview on Pacifica's KPFK radio on a morning program where a young woman was explaining the loss of her aunt that was a nurse in a hospital engaging the Coronavirus. She recounted her aunt telling her that she was not provided with masks or gloves and that a patient had sneezed in her face a week prior to her falling ill. All this culminated with a Zoom meeting with the family saying goodbye before she died. Later that day I passed a local hospital that had placed a large banner on the street honoring our heroes that were fighting the current epidemic.
In my work for The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, I am constantly reminded of a similar refrain from those pushing back against our work of getting youth, with limited opportunities for their futures, to consider all the ramifications of serving in the United State's post 9/11 military. That push-back always invokes the heroic diatribes defending those who serve in our military branches and a forceful reminder of how dare we try to diminish the sacrifice of heroes who have served or are considering serving by revealing the harmful realities of military service. Of course we do not diminish their service but try to put it in context to a fuller and more accurate disclosure of what military recruiters manage to leave out of their enlistment appeals. The relationship between these two scenarios, and the contradictions inherent in both, stayed with me all week and encouraged this short OpEd.
How COVID-19 is impacting the Delayed Entry Program and threatening the health of recruits.
By Pat Elder / National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, NNOMY - June 8, 2020
- Leer la versión en español
COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the way the military finds new soldiers. The recruiting command was caught unprepared to face the pandemic and is facing a challenging new reality.
Military recruiting is an intense, psychological pursuit that has traditionally relied on the ability of recruiters to develop close relationships with teenage prospects. These relationships were cultivated in the nation’s high schools where recruiters enjoyed access to children. Recruiters served as coaches and tutors. They brought donuts to the faculty. They ate lunch with prospects, sometimes a hundred times in a single school year. Military recruiters played one-on-one basketball after school with potential recruits and became best of friends with some kids. So friendly, hundreds of male recruiters have been implicated in inappropriate sexual relationships with underaged girls.
High schools were the center of the recruiting universe, but that ended abruptly in March when the enlistment pipeline was ruptured. Recruiters enlisted seniors and placed them into the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) in which a student’s entry into active duty is postponed for up to 365 days. (The Army now calls it the Future Soldier Program.) The thrust of the DEP program is to maintain future soldier motivation while minimizing attrition. When DEP members report to basic training, they are accessed (enlisted) into active duty.