Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Message Behind Recruiting Meltdown

The Message Behind Recruiting Meltdown
By Ralf W. Zimmermann

The light flickering at the end of the tunnel could well be the imminent military personnel train wreck that I've predicted since late 2003.

Despite all recent initiatives – including the "creative" juggling of statistical release dates and enlistment incentives promising potential recruits financial heaven on earth for a little time in the hell of Iraq's bubbling civil war, things haven't improved much for our desperate military recruiters. And it's not that they aren't trying.

I personally know quite a few of them – and they aren't sneaky used-car salesmen, as many in the news media are trying to paint them. Most are well meaning ex-warriors from the trenches who have been given a new mission, almost as critical as combat. It's to fill the ranks of the Army's fighting formations so they can sustain the breakneck speeds of endless deployments and service transformation.

Their rewards for meeting quota: maybe a medal and a few letters of commendation. Then off you go to a new assignment. The price for not making quota is dire: most likely a career-ending efficiency report and an unpleasant follow-on job. Remember Patton talking about shoveling crap in Louisiana?

The fact is that today's recruiters are given the proverbial mission impossible. To provide cover, the Pentagon geniuses have come up with new gimmicks. The latest is the all-new, 15-month enlistment.

After years of lengthy Basic Training, AIT and other follow-on schools, all of a sudden, 15 months are plenty to train quality tank crews, Bradley fighting vehicle crews and to certify troops for other complex military skills? What a change in attitude! Just a year ago, many flag-waving know-it-alls – most without one day in uniform – ripped into me for suggesting a two-year draft. Two years would never produce a quality soldier, they retorted. But all of a sudden, 15 months is the right number.

Give me a break! Stop- loss, 15-month recruiting and keeping substandard troops on active duty aren't going to win anything. If you aren't willing to talk national service, then face the facts on low recruitment. Quality volunteers know what they're getting into.

Unfortunately, our military leaders don't have many choices. Given the current political climate, mission demands, and career pressures to report success, they are often forced to push their people to the breaking point. They can no longer live by the values once promised to the troops and their families. These eternal values included providing the troops with the best training, equipment and support to win in battle at the lowest cost in human sacrifice, and affording sufficient time to rest between deployments to maintain a decent family life.

With Congress slowly degenerating into a self-serving cheerleading committee, hope for change can only come from the American people. And the people are finally emerging from their 9/11 daze, which had temporarily turned them into blind followers. Many Americans, among them scores of formerly gung-ho soccer moms, are finally realizing that the neocon warpath to reshape the entire Middle East isn't a task that they would like their own children to shoulder. They are rightfully concerned that our nation could ultimately end up quagmired and bankrupt.

That's not impossible – just remember Rome, Napoleon, Nazi Germany and others. All tried to create empires with the saber and the gun, taking on too many enemies at one time. Today, war is more than just beating the enemy militarily. You can still lose a war economically, socially and politically, if you don't pay attention. Killing terrorists doesn't require occupying entire regions.

To prevent a military meltdown, we must avoid additional military entanglements. Let's stabilize and finish what we've begun in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, that might include finding a feasible and rapid exit strategy for Iraq. Let the Iraqis figure out how to rule themselves. Might there be civil war and a possible ethnic breakup into three separate nations? Sure – but if that's what they ultimately want, more power to them.

We are seeing far too many young Americans in uniform who have begun to vote on our foreign policy by gradually rejecting our highly honorable military service – by "voting with their feet." This retired soldier is willing to bet that a more balanced and creative foreign policy could recruit more quality troops than any outrageous and bonus enlistment offer.

DefenseWatch Senior Military Correspondent Lt. Col. Ralf W. Zimmermann, USA (Ret.) is a decorated Desert Storm veteran and former tank battalion commander. His recent novel, "Brotherhood of Iron," deals with the German soldier in World War II. It is directly available from and through most major book dealers. Zimm can be reached at or via his website at © 2005 LandserUSA. Please send Feedback responses to


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