THE PENTAGON plans to spend $614 million this year to recruit the 400,000 enlisted volunteers needed to replace the men and women who will be leaving our armed forces. But the nation's 14,536 military recruiters will not have an easy time of it. For they are snared by a web of bureaucratic and administrative hamstrings that make it difficult to pursue their work rationally.
The typical recuirter is a 30-year-old staff sergeant or Navy petty officer with 10 years of military service, two years of recruiting experience, a wife and one child (with another on the way or planned). He earns $14,049 a year, counting an allowance for food and housing. He is a hand-picked professional, a cut above the average career soldier, and his job in 1980 is to enlist about 27 volunteers -- overall, one out of every three high school graduates -- for a job that pays 82 percent of the minimum wage.
The challenge is unique, especially because the recruiter knows that 3 percent of his fellow recruiters are eligible for food stamps. And his job in 1980 will be harder than it was last year, when for the first time in the history of the all-volunter force, not one of the military services met its recruiting goals. Only 93 of every 100 youngsters needed put on a uniform last year.
That's not surprising, given what the recruiters have to offer them: jobs paying 7 to 20 percent less than entry-level pay for comparable civilian work at a time when youth unemployment is declining, when the pool of 18-to-24-year-old enlistment-eligible Americans is diminishing, and when elimination of the GI Bill (worth about $7,000 now to soldiers who enlisted in 1977, before it was abolished) has removed a major incentive just as a government-funded educational opportunities are increasing for youngsters who shun military service.
The recruiter's most important tool is access, a way to reach the soon-to-graduate high school student. But an Army survey of the nation's 23,000 high schools recently found out that:
Almost 2 percent of them prohibit recruiter access of any kind.
Another 4 percent limit recruiter access to "job fairs" or "career days" open to all prospective employers.
Forty-one percent refuse to give them a list of students' names, home addresses and telephone numbers.
State and local school boards increasingly protest that such information cannot be released because of federal privacy statutes, even though the law specifically does not preclude the release of such "public information."
There are 1,259,000 unemployed 18-to-24-year-old males in America today, but the recruiter gets even less help from state and local unemployment agencies. This is because the Labor Department refuses to give "placement credit" (brownie points that mean more federal funds and promotions or merit increases to counseling personnel) for referring job seekers to military careers. In 1977, Labor decided that referring unemployed young men to military recruiters might be "construed as coercing persons to serve in the armed forces." Labor won't even let military job opportunities be listed in its computerized job bank system, and the department prohibits local agencies from allocating desk space to military recruiters.
(The Pentagon's skirts are not entirely clean on this issue. About five years ago, when Labor was willing to list military jobs in its job bank, the Defense Department said it couldn't foot the $60,000-a-year bill that Labor wanted it to pay.)
The Pentagon has appealed the "placement credit" ruling three times in as many years, but Labor Secretary Ray Marshall turned down the most recent appeal, citing the Federal Employment Service's "proper role . . . as a job placement agency in carrying out its responsibilities to the civilian economy" [emphasis added].
At a time when the Pentagon has to spend almost $1,600 per person to find people willing to enlist in the armed forces, roughly 10 percent of those who do volunteer end up having to be discharged or given special waivers because of prior criminal records that recruiters cannot find out about until after the youngsters are in uniform.
This has come about as a result of the 1975 Law Enforcement Administration Act, which restricts the release of information about an individual's criminal record to law enforcement agencies, and a subsequent federal regulation which interprets the act to mean that the armed forces do not qualify as law enforcement agencies. As a result, 38 states now deny recruiters access to police records, and the Pentagon wasted millions last year recruiting volunteers who later had to be discharged or given special waivers. A presidential executive order could allow recruiters access to such data while screening new volunteers, but the Office of Management and Budget has consistently refused to ask the White House for one. It has asked the Pentagon for "hard, quantifiable data" before it will support such an executive order.
The problem is not insignificant. Last fall, for instance, the Marine Corps screened 13,000 recruits during boot camp and was dismayed when 848 of them, or 6 1/2 percent, disclosed potentially disqualifying personal history information. Of those, 358 cases appeared to involve prior police records, but the Marine Corps could verify only 152 of them because law enforcement agencies involved in the others wouldn't respond to the queries.
The Catch-22 in all of this became clear in November, when the Marine Corps' Baltimore recruiting station enlisted a volunteer named George Kalomeris. As recruiting stations routinely try to do, Kalomeris' enlistment papers were quickly checked against federal, state and local records to verify his age, social security number, high school and criminal record.
In this case, the Marine Corps was lucky: the Maryland State Police is one of the few that still cooperates with military recruiters. When officials checked Kalomeris' record, they informed the Marine Corps that they held a warrant for his arrest. He was wanted for murder -- and arrested at the recruiting station the next day when he reported for assignment to the boot camp at Parris Island.
Had Kalomeris been recruited from New York, where state and local police refuse recruiters access to criminal records, George Kalomeris today might be wearing a Marine uniform, still wanted as a murder suspect.
The location of their recruiting stations is another curse that makes the recruiter's life difficult. Federal policy requires the utilization of space already leased or available and encourages the use of downtown facilities that will contribute to the revitalization of our inner cities, a commendable social goal that has little to do with recruiting needs.
Thus, many recruiting stations are located in shabby office space miles from the suburban high schools which recruiters need to cultivate. Many are in federal buildings whose security rules require that recruiters' doors be locked at 5 p.m., when the youngsters they need to reach are getting off the basketball courts or finishing football practice. That leaves the recruiter on his own to establish contacts with potential volunteers, and he gets up to $40 a month "pin money" to help him interest, screen and "close" his prospect at the local pizza parlor, McDonald's or Gino's.
But things are looking up. A few months ago, the Army Corps of Engineers was given responsibility for finding office space for the military's 2,848 recruiting stations; recruiters are hopeful that under the corps, the location problem will improve. But some recruiters are gun-shy about another move. Last year, when the General Services Administration agreed to give up responsibility for recruiting station space, GSA sort of threw in the towel: leases weren't renewed, recruiters weren't notified and a few recruiters found themselves evicted by commericial landlords when the leases ran out, their desks literally put on the sidewalk.