Recruiting Soldiers During Wartime Difficult
The New York Times has done an investigation and found that, shockingly, Army recruiters are having a rough time of it.
The Army’s recruiters are being challenged with one of the hardest selling jobs the military has asked of them in American history, and many say the demands are taking a toll. A recruiter in New York said pressure from the Army to meet his recruiting goals during a time of war has given him stomach problems and searing back pain. Suffering from bouts of depression, he said he has considered suicide. Another, in Texas, said he had volunteered many times to go to Iraq rather than face ridicule, rejection and the Army’s wrath.
An Army chaplain said he had counseled nearly a dozen recruiters in the past 18 months to help them cope with marital troubles and job-related stress. “There were a couple of recruiters that felt they were having nervous breakdowns, literally,” said Maj. Stephen Nagler, a chaplain who retired in March after serving at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, where the New York City recruiting battalion is based.
Two dozen recruiters nationwide were interviewed about their experiences over four months. Ten spoke with The New York Times even after an Army official sent an e-mail message advising all recruiters not to speak to this reporter, who was named. Most asked for anonymity to avoid being disciplined. A handful who spoke said they were satisfied with their jobs. They said they took pride in seeing awkward, unfocused teenagers transform into confident soldiers and relished an opportunity to contribute to the Army effort. But most told similar tales: of loving the military, of working hard to complete a seemingly impossible task, of struggling to carry the nation’s burden at a time of anxiety and stress.
The careers and self-esteem of recruiters rise and fall on their ability to fulfill a mission, said current and former Army officials and military experts who were also interviewed. Recruiters said falling short often generates a barrage of angry correspondence, formal reprimands, threats or even demotion. “The recruiter is stuck in the situation where you’re not going to make mission, it just won’t happen,” the New York recruiter said. “And you’re getting chewed out every day for it. It’s horrible.” He said the assignment was more strenuous than the time he was shot at while deployed in Africa.
At least 37 members of the Army Recruiting Command, which oversees enlistment, have gone AWOL since October 2002, Army figures show. And, in what recruiters consider another sign of stress, the number of improprieties committed – signing up unqualified people to meet quotas or giving bonuses or other enlistment benefits to recruits not eligible for them – has increased, Army documents show. “They don’t necessarily have real bullets flying at them,” said Major Nagler. “But there are different kind of bullets they need to contend with – the bullets of not producing numbers, of having a station commander shoot them down.”
One suspects George Patton would slap these guys silly with a glove. We’ve got soldiers in Iraq getting killed by terrorists with IEDs and these guys are having ulcers and going AWOL because they’re getting strongly worded memos?!
There’s no doubt the recruiter’s job is hard, let alone during wartime. Making the transition from soldier to salesman is not easy. And, surely, the leadership should realize this and desist sending threatening letters to recruiters not meeting their arbitrary quotas when it’s an across-the-board problem. But, geez.
Update (1417): Jack Army makes some good points in the comments below and at his own blog.
Cori Dauber wonders the extent to which the anecdotes in the NYT piece translate into data, a point that had occured to me as well.