Cpl. LaTwanya Larry is not a career soldier. The fresh-faced 22-year-old doesn't even plan to reenlist after her current four-year term is up.
Still, Larry--not some grizzled veteran--is the first military person many would-be recruits meet when they wander into a recruiting office or stop by the Army booth at a career fair. The Army hopes young soldiers will be able to relate better to those considering enlisting.
In August, the Army began using corporals to deal with new recruits, whose average age is 21. Historically, recruiters have been in their mid-30s with a rank of sergeant first class or higher. That can be intimidating to someone fresh out of high school.
"It helped a lot that she was my age, for real," said Marcus Watson, 19, who stopped in to the College Park office to schedule an entry test with Larry for later in the week. "I was already interested in the Army, and she helped me make my decision final."
That's what Army officials want to hear, especially given the shortfall the military is facing. Last year's Army recruiting goal was 74,500, and only 68,210 signed up.
"We need a constant stream of manpower," said Doug Smith, spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Ky. "The younger recruiters can relate better and say, 'Hey, I was just there and here's what it was like for me.' "
The program is a spinoff of similar approaches taken by the Navy and the Air Force, which also are facing manpower shortages in a booming economy where qualified applicants have their pick of jobs.
During the 1998 fiscal year, the Navy's recruiting goal was 55,321 sailors, but only 48,429 signed up.
Recruiting younger recruiters hasn't been difficult. Recruiters receive an additional $375 a month for special duty pay along with their standard E-4 salary of about $1,200 a month. They work in offices, can live off-base if they want to and don't work nights or many weekends.
"Still, that can be an awful lot of responsibility to throw at someone that young," Smith said. "They have to volunteer, and we make sure they're ready through training."
Larry, a Detroit native whose previous assignment was serving as a supply worker in Italy, says she plans to become a parole officer in civilian life. She will be done with her second four-year term in 2003 and she is taking classes to complete her criminal justice degree, thanks to the GI Bill.
Larry is using Army programs to prepare her for a future career outside the military, and she uses that as a selling tool to recruits.
"I spend most of my time out on the street and in the malls, just talking to people," Larry said. "And I just try to be myself while telling them how I'm getting an education and how I plan to use it."
The approach appears to be working. In her first month after training, Larry has signed up two recruits, with Watson's entry dependent on his exam results. (Recruits must pass a skills test and have a high school degree or equivalent before qualifying.)
Larry's superior officer, Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Bull, looks for an average of two to three signups a month from even his more experienced recruiters. He said he doesn't care that Larry is eventually leaving the military, only that she does a good job now.
"There are a lot of negative stereotypes to overcome about basic training and the like, and she does a good job with all of them," Bull said. "In fact, she has a lot more product knowledge about what the Army can offer recruits than a lot of officers."
Bull and other supervisors say the younger recruiters are best in face-to-face interviews.
"You've got to have your phone technique down pat, so we send them out to face-to-face a lot more," Bull said, adding that there has been no resentment from older recruiters over the new competition.
Even Larry has a long way to go if she wants to catch another young Georgia recruiter. Cpl. Cesar Johnson, 21, was stationed in his hometown of Columbus near Fort Benning this summer after a stint as an infantryman in Germany.
Since taking his new assignment, Johnson has signed up eight recruits--starting what he hopes is a long and productive Army career.
"I've got the connections of knowing people around here, and that helps," Johnson said. "But knowing what everyone else is going through sure helps, and I hang out with these people anyway, so I just tell them what the Army has done for me."