- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

FORT MEADE, Md. — Although the Army is struggling to attract soldiers to its active-duty ranks, the commander in charge of recruiting said yesterday that the current generation of eligible young people is eager to serve.

Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle said the problem is that recruiters are increasingly thwarted in reaching potential recruits by parents, educators and other “influencers” who won’t allow even a discussion about a military career.

“They are magnificent men and women, and, by and large, they are inclined to serve,” Gen. Rochelle, 55, said of the “millennium generation” currently graduating from high school.

“The challenge we are having is with those who influence ‘millennials.’ … They listen and they generally heed the advice of their advisers — whether we’re talking parents, coaches, teachers, guidance counselors.”

That older, more skeptical, generation of Americans, Gen. Rochelle said, has “unquestionably” contributed to recent drops in recruits. Last month, the Army fell short of its recruiting goal for the fourth consecutive month.

After the September 11 attacks, these influencers were likely to recommend military service 22 percent of the time; now, Army studies show that figure has dropped to 14 percent.

“It’s getting harder because of the influencers who are discouraging young people from simply acquiring information” about the Army, Gen. Rochelle said. “Influencers not wanting recruiters to call, not wanting recruiters to sit down and talk.”

Still, Gen. Rochelle was optimistic that recruiting would get a lift from graduating seniors looking for a career this summer. To make the job more attractive, officials are exploring incentives, including a proposal to double the Army’s four-year enlistment bonus to $40,000.

Also, in an attempt to “influence the influencers,” Gen. Rochelle said the Army will offer tours at military posts around the country for high school guidance counselors, educators, local politicians and other “opinion makers.”

Gen. Rochelle, who is based at Fort Knox, Ky., spoke after a change of guard ceremony for the First Recruiting Brigade, based at Fort Meade, which recruits along the East Coast from Maine to the Tidewater region of Virginia.

His comments followed a one-day suspension of recruiting efforts May 20, after reported excesses by recruiters.

“There were some things that recruiters were doing that were flying just below my fairly sharp radar,” Gen. Rochelle said, including a Houston recruiter who threatened to have a wavering would-be recruit arrested if he backed out.

When asked about the possibility of a draft, Gen. Rochelle said it wasn’t a consideration because, in large part, of the kinds of soldiers who were volunteering: “The quality of the volunteer Army has proven itself over the last 32 years to be absolutely, unmistakably, the best we’ve ever had. You simply cannot account for the difference in discipline, the lower rates of discipline.”

The Army, he said, despite the shortfall, still hopes to recruit 80,000 active soldiers by the end of its fiscal year Sept. 30. The Army is at 83 percent of that number, meaning it would have to vastly exceed its summer-month goals to reach the full-year target.

“We have some challenges,” Gen. Rochelle said. “It’s going to be high adventure for the summer.”

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