Army, Navy recruiters report minimal enlistment increase after attacks

by Sam Kean

Talk of retaliation to the Sept. 11 attacks has occupied much of the country. But those words have not translated into a spike in military recruits, those likely to undertake such action.

Despite talk by government officials of action, Navy and Army enlistment offices have reported virtually no increase in recruitment in the past week.

“In our previous experience, the impact of external events (on recruitment) tends to be minimal,” said Douglas Smith, spokesman for U.S. Army recruiting.

Instead, economic conditions and age demographics primarily affect the number of recruits, he said.

Of those who have enlisted recently, Smith said, he’s not worried about them joining the Army for the wrong reasons because the enlistment process takes weeks – another reason the full impact of Tuesday’s unprecedented events cannot yet be known. The overall military is taking a “wait and see” attitude, he said.

Smith said he’s heard about recruits who had planned to join the military for financial incentives, but the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania plane crashes gave them more reason to be proud of their decision.

In the Navy, though, Public Affairs Officer Ira Elinson said he’s not aware of any attitudinal changes among recruits this past week. He added that his office is monitoring recruitment numbers closely, but, like the Army, has seen only a minimal impact. The fact that no one knows what, if any, military action the United States will take also muddies the picture, Elinson said, because potential recruits don’t know what they will be doing.

But inquiries from civilians asking how they can best support the military without joining have definitely increased, said Elinson. In addition, he said there’s also “been a rush on flags.”

In his years of experiences, Elison said one event that “had people coming out in droves,” was the release of the 1986 movie “Top Gun.” The “Rambo” movies, too, he said, had a similar effect.

One agency that has seen a significant increase in interest is the campus Naval ROTC program, said Navy ROTC Executive Officer Dave Hutton. His office has received a “solid dozen (e-mails) since Tuesday,” he said over the phone Friday afternoon. “Normally, we don’t get any.”

The effects on the campus Army ROTC program have been more difficult to discern.

“The first two weeks of school are the busiest time for walk-ons,” said Army ROTC Enrollment Officer Richard Olson, so separating the reasons for increased inquiries are difficult. Naval officer Hutton said the increase in his office was not due to heightened interest in the first few weeks of classes.

Navy ROTC said most of their inquiries specifically referred to Tuesday’s events.

Army Col. Olson said he thought the hijackings mostly galvanized those already interested in joining to take the next step. And since the overall number of Army ROTC members has increased nationwide, Olson said he felt Tuesday’s events would add to the upswing.



Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]