Defending America
26 Aug 97


The U.S. Army spent $80 million dollars last year in search of 90,000 recruits. Even with that kind of dough being thrown around, the Army fell far below its recruiting goal.

"The biggest shortfall is with combat arms soldiers. They're running 20 percent below objective," says a recruiting executive.

Perhaps this explains why so many squad leaders, platoon sergeants and line officers have complained to me that they have half filled fighting units that ain't Good To Go.

These warriors also say the end product they're getting from the recruiter doesn't hack it in terms of quality, motivation and preparation. A squad leader in the 25th Division says "Most of the people I'm getting wouldn't last five minutes in a fire-fight."

That's bad news, because when you get right down to it, the only purpose of the Army is to have well trained grunts in rifle squads, in tanks and behind cannons ready to blow away the enemy.

The Army's answer to this problem is to kick up the recruit bonus to $12,000 from $8,000 and the GI bill to $40,000. Even that tax-payer provided fortune is not creating a long line of eager recruits.

In their desperate search for more bodies, the brass have placed the recruiters on the firing line. One sergeant says "It's almost fill your quota or die."

"I work half days," says another recruiter "from 0600 to 2300 hours (6AM to 11 PM). I'm treated like a private even though I wear SFC (Sergeant First Class) stripes. I'm nothing but a bone digger."

The recruiters are under such extreme pressure that this has resulted in big trouble: angry wives, divorce, mental breakdowns, and suicide. A sergeant says "My wife is on Prozac for depression. I'm never home. She thinks I'm fooling around. We were better off during Desert Storm."

A recruiting sergeant in Ohio was found walking down a highway talking to himself. "He cracked because of the relentless strain. He's now under evaluation," says a sergeant.

Some of the recruiters are full time, and these are the guys in charge. The rest, according to a recruiter, are "dragged hollering and screaming" from line units. Most would rather run through a minefield than be a head hunter.

"I'd rather be in a foxhole in Bosnia, than living a life of fear and lying just to keep my stripes. This trip is destroying my honor and love for the Army," says a sergeant who quit and has returned to a line unit.

"The career guys are lazy, self-serving dudes who couldn't cut it in the real army. Most have been away from the field for so long they wouldn't know taps from reveille," reports a senior sergeant.

The recruiters blame the brass at Recruiting Command. "They're not in touch with the bottom," says one sergeant. Another says, "The answer is a wholesale purge of (the) Recruiting Command." Yet another says "They need an air strike on the headquarters, and I'll even call it on my own position just to ensure that it's on target."

Meanwhile, down where the rubber hits the track, the fighting units are running on empty. This shortage must be filled immediately.

The end of the cold war, a booming economy, rape in the barracks, the Army's failure to keep promises such as medical benefits to previous generations, and the feeling of many teenagers that being unable to find a job elsewhere, the Army is the last resort, are the major factors why few answer the call or scarf up the money.

A whopping number of those who do enlist quit. In 1994, 25,000 hung up their soldier suits after only six months. The cost to the taxpayer: $690 million.

The Pentagon should close the Recruiting Command, which would provide enough money and personnel spaces to give the nation another fighting division. It should also replace the failed All-Volunteer-Army experiment with the draft.

Moms and dads with draftee sons and daughters would ask Mr. Clinton why we have soldiers in a hundred countries around the world and why their kids are in Bosnia, another Somalia, that will soon explode like a hand grenade.

Remember, draftees got us out of Vietnam, and boy, do they ever love to blow the whistle on institutional abuse and corruption.