Recruiting: The search for soldiers

Jerret Raffety

People often know them when they see them. They’re handing out brochures, telling success stories and encouraging people to serve their country and the freedoms they enjoy.

From an office in Dinkytown to another on Lake Street West in Minneapolis, U.S. Army recruitment constantly continues in the metro area, and some University students contemplate signing up or actually do join the ranks.

A team of five recruiters leads the work in the Minneapolis area, looking for future Army soldiers. They’re after people who want career advancement, the opportunity to serve or financial gain or stability. They also want people with values and goals that will help them succeed in the challenging environments that wartime can bring, they said.

Minnesota has 24 Army recruitment stations, of the approximately 1,700 scattered nationwide.

Mary Lou Eckstrand, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Minneapolis chief of advertising and public affairs, said there are 41 recruiting battalions nationwide, with approximately 6,000 recruiters on active duty and approximately 1,700 recruiters on reserve.

Each battalion works in multiple states and varies in size because of geography and populations, Eckstrand said. The Minneapolis battalion is in charge of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Recruiting with goals

Sgt. 1st Class Gary Flowers, U.S. Army recruiting station commander, recruits people by discussing what the Army can do for their goals.

Formerly a combat engineer with the 82nd Airborne Division, Flowers has spent approximately a third of his 12-year Army career as a recruiter.

Army recruiters do not choose their positions but are picked by the Army because their mental competency scores are in the top 10 percent of their vocational branch.

Soldiers become recruiters after completing a two-month recruiting school and learning about Army history, programs, training and benefits necessary to recruit.

“Many don’t want to recruit at first, but the communication skills they learn change their minds,” Flowers said. “It’s very different talking to high school students, versus college students, versus parents.”

There is no commission for recruiters, and they are paid like other soldiers, he said.

Flowers said he does have friends serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he wishes he could be there with them.

“As much as they’re putting their lives in danger, I’d like to be with them, watching their back and protecting them,” he said. “But by bringing them recruits of the same character, values and belief to replace my presence, I’m giving them someone just like me or better.”

Recruiting has only become more challenging since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Parents of recruits are more apprehensive about letting their children enlist, Flowers said.

“The numbers recruited haven’t changed, but the reasons for joining have,” Flowers said. “More are inspired by patriotism and less for the financial and career opportunities.”

He said more people are now interested in combat positions. Interest in the Army during wartime shows strong character and will, he said.

Joining also takes living up to Army values such as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage to succeed, Flowers said.

“We have a standard, and we try our best not to take away from that standard,” he said.

Flowers and his recruiters enlisted 12 University students in the Army last year and four so far this year, he said.

Methods vary

Looking on the streets for people interested in joining the Army is the most common and successful method for recruiting, Flowers said.

Cpl. Chris Mundon has been recruiting for nearly two months after being selected from the 1-1 Cavalry Regiment, in which he was an M1A1 armor crewman. He said he can sometimes tell by looking at someone if they’d be interested in Army service.

“You don’t have to look athletic to be qualified,” Mundon said. “But sometimes, you can tell by someone’s appearance where their leanings would be.”

Flowers said no recruiter can assume interest, but if someone shows interest, the recruiter will follow up on it.

He estimates 70 percent of candidates for recruitment are met on the street, 20 percent are walk-ins and 10 percent call for information.

“People you meet on the street seem more interested in joining, because they see our demeanor and are less intimidated,” Flowers said.

He estimated three people walk into the Dinkydome recruiting office weekly because they’re interested in joining, he said. The office on Lake Street West sees approximately two walk-ins per week, he said.

University students and recent graduates are more likely to walk in for information, because they think about their futures more, Flowers said.

“Many college graduates are wondering what they’re going to do, and if they don’t have a specific set of skills that employers are looking for, they’re looking to obtain them from the Army,” Flowers said.

People also join for extra money, patriotism or the chance for an exciting job, he said.

Flowers said he doesn’t put much faith in walk-in visits, however. Approximately half of these walk-ins will actually follow up on their initial visits, he said. “People who walk in are more flighty.”

Mundon said only approximately 10 percent of Americans are qualified for military service. Most people are disqualified for physical, mental or legal reasons, he said.

Some ‘U’nfriendly areas

Compared with other nearby colleges, reception from the University community for Army recruiters is the worst in the area, Flowers said.

He said most of the negativity is from anti-war sentiment or a lack of Army traditions in Minnesota because most bases are in the southern United States.

“If there was more military presence around here, there would probably be less negativity towards recruiters and more recruits,” he said.

Flowers said he has heard stories from his recruiters about people around the University having rude attitudes, laughing at and making fun of recruiters.

“Some recruiters feel looked down upon,” he said.

Flowers said an Office of the Bursar staff member told one of his recruiters any recruiting fliers that were put up would be ripped off the wall.

University senior Ann Bell hasn’t been approached by a military recruiter since coming to the University but said she doesn’t think recruiters should hunt people down on campus.

She said that she was approached while attending Minnesota State-Mankato.

“People around here know what they want to do, and, if they’re interested, they’ll find (the recruiters). They don’t need to be tracked down,” Bell said.

Despite the sentiment, some University students and employees remain polite, Flowers said.

The recruits

So far in 2005, the Army has had three recruiting events at the University, but they haven’t been as successful as hoped, said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Stewart. He started recruiting in February after working as a communications officer with the U.S. Army 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment.

“We’re working to evaluate what went wrong and why,” Stewart said.

Danielle Williams, a senior at Minneapolis Washburn High School, attended a recruiting event on campus Thursday.

“I would join to help better myself and have new experiences in life. But my brother is in the Army – and I’m not sure if my dad could deal with the both of us in the Army at the same time,” she said. “My dad would feel safer with me in college.”

John Chan, an Institute of Technology sophomore, is taking a break from school this semester to begin a 28-month tour as an active-duty soldier.

Chan said that he decided to join the Army long before meeting any recruiters.

“I wanted the opportunity to be in combat and serve my country,” he said. “It seemed like an opportunity that, if I waited too long, would no longer be there.”

Chan will be deployed to Iraq this summer and is excited about the personal challenge of military service, he said.

He said he also knows about the dangers.

“You’d be foolish not to be nervous about combat,” he said.

Chan said his parents are nervous about him joining the Army.

“I’m a first-generation American, so I don’t think my parents understand my patriotism and interest,” he said.