The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. Other job prospects are soaring, and relatives of potential recruits are increasingly discouraging them from joining the armed services.
According to data obtained by the Associated Press, the decline covers all four military services for active-duty recruits. The drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.
The findings reflect the growing unpopularity of the wars, particularly among family members and other adults who exert influence over high school and college students deciding whether to serve their country, further their education or build a career.
The message comes as no surprise to the Pentagon.
“The global war on terror has taken its toll, no question,” said Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon’s director of accession policy, in an Associated Press interview.
Marine commandant Gen. James T. Conway agreed that the bloodshed in Iraq — where more than 3,540 U.S. troops have died — is the biggest deterrent for prospective recruits.
“The daily death toll that comes out is, I think, causing people who are the influencers of young men and women in America to take a second look,” he said. “So I think that’s probably the single most dominant feature.”
According to Pentagon data, there were nearly 51,500 black recruits for active duty and reserves in 2001. That number fell to less than 32,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decline. When only active-duty troops are counted, the number of black recruits went from more than 31,000 in 2002 to about 23,600 in 2006, almost one-quarter fewer.
The decline is particularly stark for the Army. Blacks represented about 23 percent of the active Army’s enlisted recruits in 2000, but 12.4 percent in 2006. The decline in black recruits overall has been offset partly by an increase in Hispanic recruits and those who classify themselves as other races or nationalities.
The active-duty services have largely met recruiting targets in the past two years, while the Army, Army National Guard and Air National Guard fell short of their goals last month.
Gen. Conway said Marine recruiters “used to spend four hours with the young recruit and four hours with those people that we would call the influencers: the parents, the pastors, the coaches, the teachers.” Now, he said, they spend four hours with recruits and 14 hours with influencers.
Mr. Gilroy said the growing dissatisfaction with the war among black political and community leaders, as well as parents and teachers, is a major factor, too. Citing high-profile black leaders such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Mr. Gilroy said, “We hear greater criticism of this administration’s policies and greater concerns about the effects of the war.”
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