| Mark Genito / The Citizen |
Army recruit Joshua Campell, of Bernhard Bay, does the stair climb portion of the ARMS test as local Army recruiter Private 2nd Class Timothy McNabb keeps pace by tapping pens at the Auburn YMCA earlier this week.
Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Winslow and Staff Sgt. Luke Bunner spend their days talking to area students about the many benefits the military can provide. Winslow and Bunner, who operate out of the U.S. Army's Auburn recruiting station in the Carr Building on Genesee Street, attend school career fairs and set up tables in various community buildings.
And they do their job quite effectively.
At a time when recruiting nationally is slumping, local recruiters are surpassing their goals. Winslow says it is his ability to talk to people that makes his recruiting station so successful. With a muscular build and shaved head, Winslow seems less intimidating as he sucks on a grape lollipop. Winslow pushes the recruiters in his office to get out in the community, rather than waiting for people to come to them.
“I like to think of us as career enhancers,” Winslow said. “I like knowing we had a hand in starting someone's career, even if it is not the Army they decided to go into.”
But not everyone appreciates the success local recruiters are having. Recent protests over the presence of recruiters at Wells College and a campaign launched by the New York Civil Liberties Union are two of the many efforts nationwide aimed to change how recruiters can operate.
In the 2003-04 school year, 19 area students entered U.S. military branches upon graduation. This year, local Army recruiters have signed up 40 new recruits, just four shy of their annual goal. For the month of October, the Auburn recruiting office aimed to recruit three new members and wound up with 10.
“We had a slow start in 2005,” Winslow said. “But I think we are making up for it.”
Nationally, the Army fell 6,627 recruits short of its 2005 goal of 80,000. It was the Army's first full-year deficit since 1999 and its biggest shortfall in 26 years. Though the Navy Reserves fell 88 percent short of its annual goal, the Army National Guard fared the worst with 50,219 people signing up for the year, only 80 percent of its goal.
“Unless the situation in Iraq improves, or unless we drastically enlarge the pool of possible recruits in some way, one would have to expect continued tough slogging for the Army,” said Michael O'Hanlon, defense specialist at the Brookings Institution, a national analysis group.
Locally, it is not only the Army that is busy signing on students. Also located in the Carr Building are the recruitment offices of Petty Officer David M. Rupp, with the Navy, and Staff Sgt. D.D. Charter, with the U.S. Marine Corps.
In January, Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Joe Call was named Rookie Recruiter of the Year for Region 5, which covers New York, New Jersey and New England. The enlistment quota per month is three students, 36 per fiscal year. In 2004, Call, a Port Byron resident, recruited 53 students above his quota.
Provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act have opened up a number of doors for recruiters. The act grants military recruiters access to high school students' personal information: names, phone numbers and addresses. Schools also allow recruiters to set up tables on their campuses. At Auburn High School, recruiters are available during lunch breaks and have attended the school district's career fair.
“We want students to be aware of all of their options,” said David Roth, Auburn high school principal. “Some students may be interested in the GI bill or other college opportunities.”
An opt-out form is sent home to parents and they can choose to have their child's name removed from the list given to recruitment officers. Roth said a number of parents have already resubmitted opt-out forms, which were sent out at the end of September.
“Every day there are forms being returned from parents saying they don't want their children contacted,” Roth said.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has recently launched a campaign to let high school students know they do not have to make themselves available to military recruiters. The central New York chapter plans to begin handing out pamphlets to schools, explaining students' rights, said area executive director Barrie Gewanter.
“We are not anti-military in any shape or form,” Gewanter said. “We are pro-privacy, and just because a student walks in the schoolhouse door, does not mean that right goes out the window.”
Gewanter said the NYCLU will be on the lookout for schools that are not complying with privacy policies; and in those situations, the chapter will intervene. Gewanter is also pushing to have schools distribute opt-out letters in school, rather then sending them home to parents.
“It is (students') personal choice,” Gewanter said. “They shouldn't have to wait for parental permission to keep their information private.”
Some NYCLU representatives would like to see the provision in No Child Left Behind changed to an opt-in option, meaning rather than have students and their parents saying they do not want to be contacted, they would be saying that they do.
Winslow said he can see the benefits of running the program that way. He said it would limit the number of students they would have to contact, and may possibly increase the number of recruits they are able to bring on board.
“Running things that way ... we would know that the students who opted-in are really interested, and we can really focus on just them,” Winslow said. “The downside is we may not be reaching students who might be interested, if they knew more about us.”
The NYCLU is not alone in its fight against recruiters on campus. A group of Wells College students recently hosted what they called a “die-in” when a Marine recruiter came to visit the campus. Inspired by the St. Patrick's four - a group of Ithaca peace activists who were arrested after pouring blood on the walls at a military recruiting center - Janel Doyle coordinated the protest. She conducted a similar protest in September when the Air Force came to visit the Aurora campus.
“I don't believe recruiters should be on campus,” Doyle said. “I just don't think it is the proper forum. If a student is interested, I am sure they know where to find the recruiters.”
Opposite the Marine's recruitment table, Doyle and classmate Jill Rosentel set up an anti-war booth. The girls gave out information and statistics opposing the war in Iraq. To drive their point home, a group of students laid on an American flag, covered in fake blood to symbolize lives lost in the war in Iraq.
“You can't be one of the few and the proud if your dead,” Doyle said.
“We are not anti-military,” Rosentel added. “We are anti-war, and think that students should just be given all of the facts.”