Military recruiting has to be one of the most demanding and stressful jobs in America today. Try as they may, the 7,500 military recruiters are hard-pressed to sign up even two-thirds of the 80,000 quota they have been given this year by the Defense Department to meet the demands of the current and planned operations.
The New York Times has reported that many recruiters are on the verge of nervous breakdowns, experiencing bouts of depression and/or marital troubles, and some have contemplated suicide. Some have signed up recruits who do not meet the requirements of the service and many have been known to omit information they should have told the potential recruit, or stretched the truth to get a youngster to sign up.
At least 37 recruiters have gone AWOL since October 2002, while a great many have requested other assignments. Some even volunteered to go to Iraq rather than recruit.
All of this despite raising the age limit for volunteers from 34 to 40 and offering cash bonuses of many thousands of dollars to entice possible recruits.
As the news from the war zones becomes more dire and with no end of the carnage in sight, recruiters head to more fertile grounds and focus almost entirely on minority and rural schools and colleges, knowing full well these students are more vulnerable to their sales pitch that the military is the very best choice given their uncertain future at home after graduation.
Stressing only the benefits offered, such as travel, doing exciting things, learning job skills and getting money for college when they end their service, the recruiters’ pitch all sounds so good to immature youths.
Completely unknown to these young people, and never discussed by recruiters, is the fact that of the 580,000 U.S. troops who served in the six-week 1991 Gulf War, 11,000 are now dead, and by the year 2000, 325,000 were on permanent medical disability from the depleted uranium weaponry and the many other toxic and horrifying conditions they were exposed to.
Also unknown is the fact that over half of those who served in that war are now parenting children who are born with some birth defect when previous children were born normal.
The Veterans Administration reports that due to the extremely stressful conditions being experienced by our troops serving in the Mideast, almost a quarter of those returning home are now being diagnosed with serious emotional problems called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That percentage is expected to increase as time goes on. Some experts estimate that before the Iraq operation is ended, there could be as many as 100,000 veterans who will require mental health treatment for the rest of their lives.
The Marine Corps reports that suicides rose by 29 percent in 2004, with 31 ending their lives out of 83 attempts.
Close to 25,000 troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have already been airlifted back to the states for wounds or mental reasons, while military hospitals struggle to meet the need.
The GI Rights Hot Line, a not-for-profit organization with an 800 number set up to offer information, received over 32,000 calls last year from soldiers who do not want to go to Iraq, or go back to Iraq for a second or third deployment. Many of the calls were from some of the 5,000 troops who have gone AWOL (absent without leave) since the Iraq invasion in 2003, and are desperately looking for some legal way to leave the service.
As more of these truths become known to the public, especially the young of military age, filling the military’s recruitment quotas becomes ever more difficult and the possibility of a draft ever more probable.
If this were to occur, we can be certain more draftees will be seeking conscientious objector status with help from organizations like Veterans For Peace (www.veteransforpeace.org), American Friends Service Committee (www.youth4peace.org), and Alternates to Military Service (www.AMSNetwork.org).
Bud Deraps (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Bi-State Chapter of Veterans For Peace in St. Louis, Mo.