WASHINGTON—Faced with an ever-increasing strain on the armed forces since the Iraq war began almost four years ago, the Pentagon is coming up with creative ways to encourage young people to serve.
The Defense Department, which spends more than $1.2 billion a year on recruiting, has been targeting parents and other role models to encourage youths to join since 2003. Take a look at the latest Army advertisements on television. They're pitched directly at parents.
"The next time your son or daughter wants to talk about joining the Army, listen," says one.
"You made them strong. We'll make them Army strong," says another.
The approach is a far cry from the old days, when Uncle Sam pointed a finger at potential recruits and declared simply, "I Want You."
So what's wrong with making the same kind of direct appeal today?
"It doesn't work," Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's top general for recruiting, said in an interview in October at the Army's annual symposium.
That explanation resonates with some members of Congress. Reps. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., and Geoff Davis, R-Ky., said they spent a lot of time encouraging young people to consider military service, sometimes with mixed results.
Davis said there needed to be a "more proactive focus" from above, meaning President Bush and his administration. Such an effort should "explain to the American people, very credibly and consistently, the nature of the environment in which we live today and why service is important to the future of our country," Davis said.
Marshall encouraged his 18-year-old daughter to consider attending West Point or another service academy.
"(But) she chose not to," he said. "And I respect that choice."
As the strain on the military has grown, the Pentagon not only has targeted youth, it's also opened the ranks to some older recruits. The Army, which used to cut off enlistment at age 35, now accepts recruits as old as 42. The Marines plan to ask some troops who've left the service if they're interested in coming back.
Policy experts in Washington have been tinkering around the edges in other ways in an effort to bolster the all-volunteer force. One proposal that's been floated is allowing the military to recruit foreigners in exchange for U.S. citizenship.
Retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, who oversaw the policy that allowed homosexuals to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation secret, proposed repealing the policy in a New York Times opinion piece earlier this month.
"We must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job," he wrote.
Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, doesn't think that Congress will reinstate the draft, even though he says the country needs it.
The Pentagon probably will continue to lower recruiting standards and offer bigger enlistment bonuses, he said. Contractors will play an increasing role. Serious thought will be given to recruiting foreigners.
But policymakers need to begin discussing the issue, he said.
"We're not just talking about this war," Moskos said. "We're talking about the long war and how our national security depends on this. It would strengthen our military because it's not just about the professional military, it's also about having citizen-soldiers, which is part of our militia heritage that stretches all the way back to the Revolutionary War."
The Selective Service System announced last month that it's planning a widespread test of its mechanisms for instituting a draft, though probably not until 2009. It said its last test was in 1998. But the agency is not preparing for another draft, officials said.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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