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thedrifter
03-12-06, 07:21 PM
Marine recruiters are finding their few good men
Web-posted Mar 12, 2006

By SVEN GUSTAFSON
Of The Oakland Press

Jacob Bucinski is a military recruiter's dream.

The 17-year-old Clarkston High School senior phoned to schedule an appointment with a U.S. Marines recruiting office after discussing his plans with his father. He heads to boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. on June 22.

"I've always wanted to be in the armed services since I was a kid," Jacob said recently.

"I've got a countdown in our kitchen. It's 105 days."

Jacob represents one of the 861 recruits the Marine Corps is requiring the Recruiting Station Detroit to send to Parris Island during the current fiscal year. And, despite rising troop casualties and declining support for the war in Iraq that combined to stymie recruiters in other branches of the military, local Marine recruiters say things are going well.

"We're exceeding our requirements in all areas. ... We always enlist more individuals than we need to send in a calendar year," said Marine Maj. Cal Worth, commander of Troy-based Recruiting Station Detroit. The station covers Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Livingston, Lenawee, Washtenaw, St. Clair and Monroe counties and part of northwest Ohio. So far, Worth said, he's sent 334 recruits to boot camp during the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.

The U.S. Defense Department reports that all four military branches exceeded their recruiting goals for February.

A year ago, the Marine Corps missed its monthly recruiting goal for the first time since 1995, the last full year in which the Corps failed to meet its annual recruiting quota.

In the U.S. Army, re-enlistments for fiscal 2005 were nearly 70,000, the highest in five years, although it was also the branch's worst year for recruiting new enlistees since 1979, when it last failed to meet its annual goal. Army recruiting for the year fell short by nearly 7,000 recruits.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Gardner, the commander who oversees recruiting in Michigan, said the Navy recently completed its 55th consecutive month of meeting its active-duty enlistment quota.

But Gardner, who replied to questions via e-mail, conceded recruiting goals "continue to be a considerable challenge," especially meeting reservist quotas. That's partly because of high active-duty retention that is reducing the available pool of veterans eligible to enlist as reservists, and partly because of a shrinking pool of what they call "quality targets" in their target market.

"Our pick is getting narrower," said Linda Pepka, a public affairs officer with the Navy's Michigan recruiting office who said factors such as lack of high school diplomas, poor scores on military aptitude tests and alcohol or drug use are thinning the pool of potential recruits.

"We have not experienced a lot of the shortfall that some of the nation was facing," Worth said. "Things may have been tougher - in other words, it may have been tough to come up with excess (recruits), but we've made all of our goals for the last four years, five years in Michigan."

Marine Maj. Rich Whitmer, commander of the Lansing recruiting station, which covers the rest of the state, said the station is exceeding its recruitment quotas on a monthly basis.

"I think the last time that RSS Lansing missed our mission was June of '98," Whitmer said. "... Kids from Michigan, the parents are very supportive, I think, of the Marine Corps, and plus the nature of outdoorsy kind of people, they fit very well into the Marine Corps."

Worth attributes the success of Marine recruiters in Michigan to a variety of factors, including the state's middle- and working-class base, which is the Corps' bread-and-butter; an uptick in patriotism post-9/11; and, perhaps not least, a state economy in a tailspin.

Still, he concedes, recruiting in the current climate remains a challenge. Defense Department statistics cited 2,308 casualties as of Friday in Iraq, and Worth said recruiters routinely face skeptical parents and inquiries about the politics behind the war - a topic Worth insists "we don't get into."

Worth said recruiters also must spend time dispelling myths for nervous recruits and parents. These include misconceptions that the majority of war casualties are black (most are white) and that joining the Marine Corps automatically entails being sent to war.

Of 180,000 active-duty Marines, roughly 30,000 are currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. "That means there are 150,000 Marines doing something else right now," Worth said. "We remind people of that."

For Jacob Bucinski, the specter of war did not dissuade him from enlisting.

"I'm concerned about it," he said. "Like everyone would be concerned about it, but it's something I feel is part of the job. ... It was definitely a motivation to say I provided for my family, my country and anybody else I care about in the fullest way."

Ellie