Recruiting during economic hardship
Historically during times of recession, military recruitment picks up and it’s easy to understand why. The military guarantees a steady paycheck, housing and medical benefits that in a stressed economy may be hard to find.
While economic recession and a slow job market are understandable reasons for looking to the military, this is still a time of war and service demands more of a Marine than just three meals a day and collecting a paycheck.
In a statement released by the House Armed Service Committee, Lt. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said “Our focus in Fiscal Year 2009 will be to continue to recruit quality men and women with the right character, commitment, and drive into our Corps.”
Coleman said recruiters continue to make recruiting goals, and estimated the goal of 202,000 Marines will have been met by now.
With the push for numbers and the military becoming an option for more people, how do recruiters ensure standards remain high?
In areas that have been hit especially hard by the recession, the military may look tempting, but that doesn’t mean the standards have been lowered, said Staff Sgt. Jonathan J. Meriwether, staff noncommissioned officer in charge Recruiting Substation Southgate, Recruiting Station Detroit, 4th Marine Corps District.
“Regardless of any such recession, the Marine Corps still maintains its high standards,” said Meriwether. “We look for commitment, sincerity, and the drive to become and do something to better themselves and to benefit their country.”
He said one of the benefits of such high interest in the military is it allows the recruiters to pay more attention to the “exceptionally qualified” applicants, and gives them time to help the applicants that need assistance in preparing for boot camp, before being sent off.
Before the recession hit, recruiting in his area was difficult, said Meriwether.
“It’s still difficult, but more people are willing to come in and talk about their options than before,” he said. “That helps us out to open their eyes and let them see what we really do offer, and not just what they assumed we did.”
“We are seeing a lot of repeat applicants,” he said. “People we had talked to before are now coming back to join because their original plan isn’t working out for whatever reason.”
Staff Sgt. Mark A. Flores, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Recruiting Substation Northeast, Recruiting Station San Antonio, 8th Marine Corps District, said he didn’t think there has necessarily been an increase in people coming into the Marines since the recession, but there are more people open to the idea of serving in the military.
He noted Marine recruiters do not emphasize bonuses and other financial rewards to interested people, instead, they focus on serving the country as a Marine. Pfc. Brian R. Alfaro, a San Antonio native with Marine Security Forces and a Marine for seven months, was going to school at a community college to study criminal justice and also working at a car dealership. He said school wasn’t where he needed to be.
“I wanted to be a Marine since high school,” said Alfaro. “I tried college, but it didn’t work out.”
He said his primary concern was to support his family, which includes his wife and year-old son.
“If I was going to do the military, I was going to do the best,” said Alfaro. “The Marines Corps always appealed to me more than any other branch.”
He said his wife is very supportive of his decision, especially given the economic climate, even though it means time away for training.
“The time away is just something I have to do,” said Alfaro. “I know I’ll see them again.”
The officer selection recruiting stations are also seeing an increase in applicants.
Staff Sgt. Dennis Deppen, officer selection assistant for officer selection team Austin, Recruiting Station San Antonio, said “I have seen more people showing an interest, but it only increases the amount of people we disqualify.”
Deppen cautions people to think very carefully about why they are applying to become a Marine, especially a Marine officer.
“The people who just want a job, this is 100 percent not for them,” he said.
Deppen said he has not contracted a single person who has given job loss as their primary motivation for joining the Marine Corps.
He acknowledges that most people have been affected by the recession, but the people who come in to the officer selection office have had the desire to be a Marine for a long time.
“This is not something you can do just for a job,” he added.
2nd Lt. Michael A. Jordan, a newly commissioned officer awaiting further training at The Basic School in Quantico, Va., said he is up to the challenge.
“I always wanted to be a Marine,” said the Decatur, Texas, native. “They were the best of the best.”
He said he began preparing himself for the rigors of Officer Candidate School at the end of high school, and after graduating college in May 2008 accepted his commission in October 2008. He has an aviation contract that guarantees him flight training after completing TBS.
“The recession didn’t affect my job decision,” said Jordan, who has a degree in computer science. “But looking around and seeing my friends trying to find jobs has made me more thankful that I am in the military.”
The recent economic times have also caused some Marines who have already separated from the Marine Corps to consider coming back to military service.
Gunnery Sgt. Jessie J. Redd, prior service recruiter and staff noncommissioned officer in charge of 4th Marine Corps District, said there has been increase in the number of Marines wanting to go back into the Corps.
While economic factors may play a small role in a former Marine deciding to return to service, most of the returning Marines cite the Marine Corps itself as a factor, said Redd.
He said 124 Marines have re-enlisted in 2009 from his recruiting station, from an area that covers Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Quantico, Va.
“A lot of them coming back in, they got out due to family reasons or whatever, and find out they miss the Corps,” he said. “They miss the camaraderie.”
The large majority of former Marines who decide to return to service have been out for about six months, he said.
“They may have had plans that may not have worked out, and they miss the Corps,” added Redd.
Marcus D. Lasley, a junior operations planner with Capstone Corporation, is a former Marine staff sergeant who got out in Dec. 2008, but has his packet up for consideration to join the Marine Reserves.
“People ask me all the time about the economic times, but I can guarantee it’s not about the money,” said Lasley. “It’s not about the bonuses. It’s the bond that I miss. Our job is not done, especially with the push in Afghanistan.”
He said he is very happy in his civilian life, and both his wife and his job support his decision.
“It’s embedded in us in boot camp not to leave until the job is done,” said Lasley. “I’ve got the energy and the spare time, so why not invest that in a job that’s not done?”
The job market is competitive so the military becomes a viable option to many who would not have considered serving before. While the interest helps ensure a large enough force for the Global War on Terror, the need to maintain the high standards of the Marine Corps still exist. It is a Marine recruiter’s job to guarantee whoever the person is, they have the ability to reach the standards set by strong traditions and the means to carry the Corps into the future.
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