Pentagon Creating Student Database for Recruiting

The Washington Post fronts a report that the military is collecting information on all high school students aged 16 to 18 to better target recruiting efforts.

Pentagon Creating Student Database (WaPo, A1)

The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches. The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits. “The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service,” according to the official notice of the program. Privacy advocates said the plan appeared to be an effort to circumvent laws that restrict the government’s right to collect or hold citizen information by turning to private firms to do the work.

Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country. School systems that fail to provide that information risk losing federal funds, although individual parents or students can withhold information that would be transferred to the military by their districts. John Moriarty, president of the PTA at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said the issue has “generated a great deal of angst” among many parents participating in an e-mail discussion group.

Under the new system, additional data will be collected from commercial data brokers, state drivers’ license records and other sources, including information already held by the military.
“Using multiple sources allows the compilation of a more complete list of eligible candidates to join the military,” according to written statements provided by Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke in response to questions. “This program is important because it helps bolster the effectiveness of all the services’ recruiting and retention efforts.”

It’s rather ironic that federal law requires this information be given for military recruiting purposes at the same time that it is recognizing the demand for privacy in the form of such things as the national No Call list. That said, aside from the NCLB provisions, the only “new” thing here is that the military is essentially doing what all other firms engaged in marketing have done for years: collect the best available information on its client base.

When I was a junior in high school, more than twenty years ago now [Geezer! -ed.], we spent a school day taking the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). So far as I can recall, it was not voluntary. Within a couple of months, and not ceasing until well after I started college, I was deluged with calls from all four military services offering me various enlistment bonuses. It was aggravating and, in hindsight, questionable. Still, it was far less intrusive than the draft I would have been subject to a decade prior.

The nation needs a sizable pool of talented young people to serve in its military. I’m not sure enduring a few phone calls is too high a price to pay to help achieve that goal.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mike k says:

    Uh oh, watch the crazies flip out and say how wrong it is for the Pentagon to create such a database and target their naive children.
    It has been amusing reading the news stories that “reveal” how the recruiters target highschools in poorer areas and leave the high schools in wealthier areas alone – as if this is anything new. While it would be ideal that more than just those in the lower economic levels would be willing to serve, this is a reality in our society that will not go away w/o a draft (which is an awful idea no matter what Moscos and Rangle might think).
    My two cents for a Thurs morning.

  2. bryan says:

    Well, when they’re 18 they have to register with Selective Service anyway, and so I’d assume the military gets that info then.

  3. Just Me says:

    I don’t see anything wrong or evil with this.

    And I also admit I am troubled by the anti-military recruiting aspect of the criticism. Apparantly the uber lefties think that the military should just sit in an office and wait for the volunteers to find them-there aren’t many businesses that get quality people without putting in some effort, and I would expect no less of the military.

  4. Jim Rhoads says:

    Hellofalot better than a draft, I think.

    A little marketing seems appropriate in time of war, dontchathink?

    I still love looking at WWI and WWII posters from the USA and Great Britain, as well as old newsreels and wartime movies and magazines from those eras.

    It is interesting how “gung ho” our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were in times of crisis. It is almost like we are afraid to emulate them in even the slightest way.

  5. mike k says:

    I think a big difference is the perception – war of survival for WW I and II vs. War of ___ – the blank will be filled in based on each person’s political beliefs whether they watch Fox vs. CNN etc…(I am not taking sides here). Whereas w/ WWII there was little disagreement (there was a bit w/ US involvement in WWI I guess).

  6. ALS says:

    I’m a Soldier, and I have to say that this tactic bothers me quite a bit. Mainly because all it will do is serve to futher alienate the public from the military.

    I have to admit, I am tired of the “not my perfect angelic little Johnny” attitude of today’s parents when it comes to discouraging military service… but the way to overcome that isn’t to gather and collect this kind of data. It’s too much of a slippery slope and will only increase agitation and hostility towards the big green machine.

    The military simply has to do a better job of reaching out to the American public and integrating itself into our communities. The public needs to truly understand that Soldiers are real people with lives very much like their own; mortgages and children, cars and bills, etc. Closed up in their bases, Soldiers and their families enjoy very little real support from society as a whole. Magnetic yellow ribbons and bumper stickers, while nice gestures, don’t count as “support.” Military bases have great facilities for public fireworks displays, picnics, cook-outs, community volunteer efforts, races, etc.

    Right now, America isn’t at war, our military is.

    Until Americans feel some sense of kinship, a sort of ownership and belonging (for lack of a better word) with the military, recruitment is going to continue to suffer, and overprotective mommies and daddies are going to continue to discourage their precious Johnnies from serving.


  7. LJD says:

    A local radio station was talking about recruiting today. The DJ said he was expecting to see another full scale conflict in his lifetime, but that he would be too old to take part. Further, he said that he was afraid to go to war, did not want to, and would NOT go to war if called upon.

    This is exactly the problem. Our society is so far detached from their own survival. We have become lazy couch potatoes, enjoying our liberty and damn the rest of the world.

    I’ve got news for those who do not get it yet. A bigger war, like we are attempting to prevent with foreign policy right now, will require the participation of every one- willing or not. The next big one will claim young and old, fat, outta shape, handicapped, you name it, every one. Time for a big reality check.

  8. ALS says:

    I’ve got news for those who do not get it yet. A bigger war, like we are attempting to prevent with foreign policy right now, will require the participation of every one- willing or not. The next big one will claim young and old, fat, outta shape, handicapped, you name it, every one. Time for a big reality check.

    Lord, I hope not. If something happened to this country that required every able-bodied person to take up arms, I don’t know if we would survive. We’ve got too many “America is the enemy” defeatists in this country. To defend something, you have to believe in it and love it more than your own life. Do you honestly think there are enough of those people in this country? Sadly, I don’t. We’d lose a few states before folks finally started waking up. I hate to admit this, but it is honestly how I feel.

  9. bruce says:

    I guess people are mad because they don’t want to follow george bush into war.

  10. bruce says:

    Left-Right be damned. I don’t join street gangs for the same reason.

  11. s nolan says:

    I can not find any clarification as to whether this student datatbase is from both public and private high schools, or just public schools. Does anyone have this information?