Military Recruiters: Counselors or Salesmen?


With the Army still short of its 2005 quota by some 16,000 recruits and no end in sight to the disastrous occupation of Iraq, the new school year promises to be one in which military recruiters step up their activities. Pressures to meet their "mission" create the potential for increased recruiter abuse. The New York Times reported that last year the Pentagon investigated over 1,000 recruiting "improprieties," and after one enterprising young man in Denver tape-recorded a recruiter suggesting that he lie about his background the recruiter was demoted one pay grade. The general stand-down (one-day suspension of all recruiting activities) called by the Recruiting Command last May was an implicit admission that more than a few recruiters were using unethical tactics to get young people to enlist.

In light of growing evidence of recruiter dishonesty, it is interesting to contrast the realities on the ground with the image of the ideal recruiter crafted by the Pentagon. The Army Recruiting Command’s manual "The Army Interview" (USAREC 3-01-1) released last April depicts a fantasy image of the perfect recruiter. At once a piece of inflated nationalist rhetoric and a mundane description of tips and techniques for the successful salesman, the manual describes how the "art and science of recruiting" is designed to "keep the Army connected to America" by "exploiting all available assets in such a manner as to dominate every market area."

Recruiters, according to the manual, are "the Army’s best and brightest leaders." Citations from organizational psychology textbooks pepper the manual in an attempt to lift the spirits and self-image of the new recruiter as someone skilled in "transformational leadership" rather than the more prosaic method of "transactional leadership" based on rewards associated with salesmanship.

In effect, the ideological thrust of the manual turns on the myth that military recruiters are not enlisting young people but rather "counseling, coaching, and mentoring" them. After an opening recognition that "there are many similarities between ‘sales’ and ‘leadership,’ the manual invokes the Declaration of Independence in order to show that the "profession of arms" is a noble one and that recruiters are "leaders" not salesmen. Only the most inept recruiter, the manual suggests, would lapse into becoming "nothing more than a talking-head salesman, who could be replaced by an electronic kiosk in a mall."

"Every leader in the Army has counseled a Soldier during their career," the novice recruiter is told, as the language of the manual subtly shifts from the "art and science of recruiting" to the "art of effective counseling." For anyone familiar with the training of sales personnel in a business environment, however, "leadership" and "counseling" as defined by the authors of the manual sound remarkably like selling. Required skills include "active listening, studying human behavior, sharpening effective communication techniques, becoming self-aware, and developing valuable interpersonal skills." The ideal recruiter will know how to read the customer’s body language and interpret his ethnic-based biases. This latter point is emphasized in a short vignette in which an Army recruiter loses a prospect because he failed to recognize that for "Hispanics" the family is an important value.

In another fictitious vignette, a recruiter is about to land a new recruit when a friendly policeman who happens to know the boy informs the recruiter that only a few days earlier the prospect had been arrested for a controlled substance. The recruiter immediately drives to the boy’s house to inform him that he cannot enlist, an act that exemplifies "Army values" according to the manual but one that is contradicted by recent stories of recruiters advising prospects on how to successfully mask their drug use.

On the one hand, then, the manual represents the ideal recruiter as a counselor and confidant who consistently follows Army regulations. But in other sections of the manual we sense the intense pressure on recruiters to view the recruiting context as a battlefield: "A recruiter’s adherence to Army values and commitment to do his best is the basis of the warrior ethos. It is this frame of mind whereby recruiters will not quit until they have accomplished their mission. It compels recruiters to work through any condition to achieve victory, regardless of how long it takes and no matter how much effort is required."

In an extended vignette at the end of the manual, we meet Sgt. Dawson the perfect recruiter. An Iraq combat veteran who has dedicated his career to his fallen comrades, Dawson has transferred "many of the personal qualities that enabled him to succeed on the battlefieldto his recruiting effortsJust as in combat, he would not accept defeat or allow his fellow recruiters to accept defeat."

At numerous points in the manual, the fantasy of the recruiter as ethical teacher, counselor, and "transformational leader" breaks down and the bottom line is more clearly stated. The recruiter is fighting a different kind of war in which he must "gather intelligence" on prospects," "gain a commitment from the prospect to join the Army," and "engage the prospect’s emotional side; get the prospect enthusiastic, motivated, and involved."

Sgt. Dawson insinuates himself into the culture of the local high school, and tells a young female prospect that her desires to travel, "be part of something bigger," and "help people" will be fulfilled most easily in the army. When asked by the prospect’s parents about possible deployment to a combat zone, Sgt. Dawson replies that she will have the best training in the world and that she can rely on "the Army values and warrior ethos to get you through." He then shows the family a travel video about Europe.

Perhaps the most truthful moment in "The Army Interview" is the following: "Let’s face it, the prospect is being faced to make a difficult decision. He does not have the leadership experience or training recruiters possess." With only slight modifications, this is precisely the reason the counter-recruitment movement is struggling to demilitarize public schools. Young people are intelligent and have many dreams. What they lack is sufficient life experience to handle high-powered salesmen disguised as amiable mentors. Lupus et angus: Haec propter illos scripta est homines fabula qui fictis causis innocentes opprimunt (The wolf and the lamb: This fable was written about men who exploit innocents with false promises- Aesop).

JORGE MARISCAL teaches Chicano Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego), a counter-recruitment and anti-militarism organization. Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: gmariscal@ucsd.edu



We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


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