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Military incentives boost call to arms


U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Jeff Gilbert, left, who discusses military job prospects with Start High School senior Casey Cole, is part of the Army's renewed effort to enlist more northwest Ohioans.

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When she didn't know where else to go, Dana Bunke tried Tokyo.

She graduated from Adrian High School last year, hesitant about college but eager to see the world. She signed up for the Air Force and has just returned home after completing her first year of duty at Yokota Air Base in Japan.

“I think a lot of high school students don't know what they want,” Miss Bunke said. “That's why you see them changing their major once they get to college.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Durand explored his options on board his ship, where he took English, history, and business classes. The 1997 graduate of Central Catholic High School earned 18 college credits on his six-month cruise last summer and plans to attend college in two years - with $20,000 from the Navy - when his term of enlistment is complete.

The college incentives and the age-old military lure of traveling the world that attracted Mr. Durand and Miss Bunke are helping area military recruiters build upon the turnaround in recruiting numbers achieved last year for most branches of the service.

Most of the armed services failed to draw an adequate number of recruits in the late 1990s. In fiscal year 1998, the Navy fell nearly 7,000 seamen short of its national recruiting goal of 55,300. It recovered in 1999 when the Army and the Air Force in turn failed to meet their quotas. The Army attracted 68,200 recruits - more than 6,000 short of its goal - while the Air Force garnered 32,000 out of a projected 33,800.

Only the Marines consistently reached 100 percent of their goal of approximately 40,000 recruits per year.

By fiscal year 2000, however, all branches of the military again were enlisting at full strength, thanks to aggressive recruiting and remodeled advertising campaigns by the Army and the Navy in particular. The campaigns used television, popular FM stations, and the Internet to appeal to the newest generation of potential recruits.

Nationally and locally, recruiters have benefited, returning auspicious numbers through May.

Master Sgt. Doug Pierre said the Air Force locally has attained its recruiting goals for 10 months after a slump in 1999 and 2000, when the success rate hovered near 70 percent. He is the operations supervisor for Recruiting Squadron 338, which includes counties as far west as Williams and Defiance and as far east as Erie and Huron.

Marine recruiters in Lucas, Fulton, and Henry counties reported they are on track after signing 95 recruits - 93 percent of their goal of 102 - last year.

Throughout Ohio, where the Navy garnered 83 percent of hoped-for recruits last year, recruiters expect 100 percent success, or 1,800 recruits, in 2001.

Capt. Michael Wise, who spearheads recruiting efforts in northwest Ohio, said the Army jumped from 214 recruits in 1999 to 237 in 2000, and he expects equally positive figures this year.

But this Bettsville, Ohio, native still is not satisfied.

“We have 20,000 students in Toledo alone,” said Captain Wise, who just returned to the area several weeks ago. “That's a lot of people to only have convinced 214. I'd like to see that number double. Joining the military was one of the best decisions I've made, and I want to tell kids what they can do.”

He hopes to augment Army Reserve recruiting, which has been sluggish this year, though the Reserve had exceeded its national goal through June.

Nationwide, the redoubled efforts of recruiters such as Captain Wise helped the services rebound from the recruiting deficits of the late 1990s.

Those down years had their roots in the military downsizing that followed the Persian Gulf War, when fewer recruiters were out seeking new soldiers.

Now, said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, “We've got more recruiters and are opening up recruiting stations in areas we had taken out during downsizing.”

In January, the Army introduced its “Army of One” advertising campaign, which replaced the widely recognized “Be all that you can be” slogan and jingle. Tailored to the independent mindset of the college-aged, the campaign focuses on the contribution each individual can make to the Army.

“We want to position the Army as a place where you are going to be a member of a team, but where you are going to challenge your own capabilities and become stronger,” Mr. Smith said.

“We [have to] adjust the way we communicate with the audience of 17 to 24 year olds because their perceptions change,” said Cmdr. Steve Lowry, a public affairs officer for the Navy, which in March changed its own slogan from “Let the journey begin” to “Accelerate your life.”

These ad campaigns direct potential recruits to recently revamped web sites. Mr. Smith said hits on the site totaled 4.4 million from January to June, up from 1.8 million during the same period last year.

“For every 11 kids who hit our web site, one is going to be a soldier,” Captain Wise said.

The Army site tries to appeal to the newest generation of recruits with its profiles of real soldiers. “We have vignettes from basic training,” Mr. Smith said. “We use actual soldiers speaking in their own words so that young people can identify.”

According to Roger Bunke, the father of Airman Bunke, these educational opportunities strongly influenced his daughter's decision to join the military. “The cost of an education versus the cost after or during the service is a super incentive,” he said.

College incentives did not increase in 1998, when the Navy could not attract enough recruits, or in 1999, when the Army and the Air Force experienced similar troubles. But that year the Air Force expanded enlistment bonuses to recruits in 115 career fields, up from four career fields in previous years.

“I want kids and parents to understand that the opportunities are endless,” Captain Wise said. “You're providing a service for your country and protecting the freedom our forefathers have given us, and every guy is a small part of that.”

The Baltimore Sun reported this week that desertions are up in all branches of the military, especially among soldiers in their first four years of service. But Master Sgt. Ron Turner, public affairs chief for the Marine Corps, said goals for new recruits still are being met.

“We have to contract more people than we need, because we know there is going to be a certain amount of attrition [at boot camp],” he said. “The goals that really count are those that graduate from boot camp.”

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