Recruiters in Knoxville, Tennessee have cut their recruitment goal this year from 170 to 60 while offering higher enlistment bonuses to cope with the challenges of recruitment during wartime. No mention of counter-recruitment as a factor.
As East Tennessee mourns the death of yet another young soldier, military recruiters are facing more challenges in enlisting young people.
Army Paratrooper Mike Rodriguez, 20, was one of nine U.S. soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq on Monday. He had been part of the Reserve Officer Training Program at Central High School.
Local army recruiters say the grim realities of war have made it more difficult to persuade young soldiers to sign on.
In Knox County, recruiting officers say their goal this year is to sign 60 recruits, a much smaller number than last year’s goal of 170.
Despite cutting this year’s goal, they’ve reached 83 percent of their target so far. The deadline is September 31.
Knoxville Company’s recruiting commander, Capt. Jude Blake, says only eight to nine percent of those recruits are high school students.
“That’s our biggest problem here in the Knoxville area. We have wonderful success with the graduate market. It’s the seniors in the high schools. We have our biggest challenge from right now.”
The ROTC program is an opportunity for high school students to learn basic military skills. Recruitment officers say despite the popularity of these programs, the military has been a tough sell in high school.
The Karns High School’s Air Force ROTC program has about 100 students enrolled in it per semester.
Instructor Chuck O’Donnell says their mission is to teach these students discipline. “We’re here to teach them responsibility, accountability and attention to details.”
Those are skills needed in every military branch but it’s not what the students have in mind. Most of them are unsure about whether they plan to enlist.
6 News polled the 10 students in the class Thursday, asking them how many had plans to join the military after high school. Four students said yes. Five are still undecided and one said she had no plans to enlist.
Students who said yes explained they’re enthusiastic to serve the country. Many have family members in the military.
Those who are undecided are attracted by the offer of free college tuition but uncertain and a little bit nervous after hearing and seeing reports of numerous casualties.
O’Donnell says in the last three years, only 21 of about 300 Karns High School Students have graduated and signed on with the military. “Having served my country for 20 years. yes it does make me a little bit sad.”
O’Donnell goes on to explain their mission in high school is not to sell the military, but to make good citizens out of their students.
“We don’t push them at all. Our idea is to provide them with the tools necessary to go out the front door and be successful in life.”
Because of the tense political climate, ROTC instructors cannot talk about recruitment or encourage students to enlist. O’Donnell says if a student expresses interest, they will discuss it with their parents or guardians first.
“If they decide they want to go into the military, then we will put them in contact with an appropriate recruiter.”
Recruiters say the strong economy is posing a challenge. Many high school students are finding good jobs right out of high school.
Recruiters say many students and their parents are also misinformed after seeing violent reports of the war on television and reading articles about casualties.
They now have to work harder to re-educate them about the war, the training and equipment soldiers are given and what their mission is in the field.
Because of these challenges, recruiters are offering more incentives than ever to get young people to enlist.
In addition to paying for college, there are now numerous student loan repayment programs. There is also a delayed entry program which allows the enlisted person to choose when they want to be deployed.
The military will also provide a free laptop and Internet service to deployed military members so they can get their degrees online at no personal cost.
Plus, the military is offering sign up bonuses of up to $40,000 to those who choose to enlist for six years.