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thedrifter
09-17-06, 08:47 AM
Tough job, but Marines hitting recruitment targets

By: WILLIAM FINN BENNETT - Staff Writer

NORTH COUNTY ---- While Marine Corps officials say they are meeting their recruitment goals for the year, it's not easy filling the ranks of "The few, the proud."

Just ask Marine Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Hudachko, whose Oceanside office must sign up about 10 recruits a month. Among the daily challenges he and other recruiters face are the limited number of young people who are up to Marine Corps standards and parents who don't want their children joining the Marines.

Being a recruiter is not a job for the faint of heart, Hudachko said.

"All day you face constant rejection," he said.

One way of coping with being rebuffed is by taking a break with fellow recruiters, grabbing some lunch and reminding one another about the importance of what they are doing ---- for the nation and for the people they enlist, he said.

Hitting goals


A total of nearly 180,000 men and women are currently serving in the Marines. Marine Corps officials said last week that by the end of fiscal 2006 on Sept. 30, they expect to meet their nationwide recruitment goal of 32,766 recruits sent to boot camp.

A report from earlier this month showed that as of Aug. 31, the Marine Corps had recruited 28,353. Likewise, officials with the Army, the Navy and the Air Force say they are meeting their recruitment goals for fiscal year 2006.

The Marines are hitting their recruitment goals on the local as well as the national level, officials say.

Maj. John McDonough, who heads the San Diego recruiting region, which stretches from San Ysidro north to Las Vegas, said his 60 canvassing recruiters are well on their way to exceeding their target of 1,200 recruits by the end of the month.

The Marine Corps is also hitting its retention goals of re-enlisting 5,892 first-term Marines and 6,250 career Marines this fiscal year, a Marine Corps official wrote in a prepared statement Thursday. In fact, by June, the corps already had hit its target for both first-term and career re-enlistments, according to Marine Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Thomas Dolan.

Yet despite hitting overall recruitment targets, Marine Corps officials said in an August press release that "it is still a very difficult recruiting environment."

Contributing to the difficulty are a strong economy with a low unemployment rate and a shortage of candidates who meet enlistment standards, the release stated.

In late August, a shortage of qualified Marines in some jobs prompted officials to announce they would be calling up as many as 2,500 inactive Marines from its Individual Ready Reserves for possible redeployment.

Many of the men and women have completed four years of active duty and at least one tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they still have an obligation to the Corps.

The Marine Corps stressed the call-up was not because of overall recruitment or retention problems. They said they were having trouble filling jobs only in specific areas, such as communications, intelligence, engineering and military police.

When they join the Marines, most recruits sign an eight-year contract that, in addition to a four-year active-duty requirement, includes four years during which they may be called back to active duty if there is a war or a national emergency.

Recruiters face hurdles


Local recruiters say they face a number of obstacles in filling their recruitment quotas each month.

To begin with, more than 60 percent of potential recruits don't have a prayer of being accepted, Hudachko said. For some, that's because they can't pass the qualifying test known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Others have committed felonies. Others have histories of using hard drugs or have had gang affiliations. Still others would not qualify because they have tattoos on their hands, neck or head.

But even those without automatic disqualifiers must still have the desire, will, character and physical conditioning, Hudachko said.

And then there are the parents.

Recruits who are under the age of 18 must have their parents sign release forms allowing their children to enter the Armed Forces.

But war casualties are mounting. Many troops are on their second, third and in some cases fourth deployments. And some parents want recruiters to stay far from their children, Hudachko said.

In their quest to enlist young men and women, recruiters obtain lists of high school seniors' phone numbers from school districts and spend much of their day making phone calls to the students' families in hopes of setting up face-to-face interviews, Hudachko said. Schools are required to give such lists to military recruiters or face losing federal funding under a Bush-backed education law called the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Of the students' homes he and other Marine recruiters call, "40 percent (of parents) say, 'Never call here again,'" Hudachko said.

McDonough said he estimates that as much as 60 percent of the youth who enlist are 17 years old.

"We are seeing more parents opposed," McDonough said. "They are concerned about their child being safe."

In World War I, 116,516 troops lost their lives. In World War II, the number of U.S. dead stood at 405,399; Korea, 36,574; Vietnam, 58,209. As of Friday, 2,530 U.S. troops had died in Iraq and 276 in Afghanistan.

Asked if, when speaking with parents, he ever compares the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and the numbers killed in other wars, McDonough said it would be pointless to do so.

"We don't talk statistics to parents on casualties because they are not interested if it's one or 1 million," he said. "They are interested in the 17-year-old, 165-pound kid sitting in their living room."

Hudachko said one of the first things parents want to know is what job their son or daughter will be performing and whether it's combat related. An office job for their children would suit many parents just fine, he said.

"The majority of kids want just the opposite of what their parents want (for them)," Hudachko said. "They don't want to be sitting behind a computer ---- they want to be jumping out of planes and going out and killing the bad guys."

A father of four, McDonough said he understands the concerns and that recruiters must have the skill and honesty to address them.

It's a job that requires a "capable, compassionate and intelligent Marine sitting in front of them, who can talk to them like humans," McDonough said.

'Stop calling'


But when Fallbrook resident Jim Vampola picked up his phone one day and a Marine Corps recruiter was asking for his 17-year-old son, Richard, Vampola said he was definitely not in the mood for a face-to-face visit to discuss the boy's enlistment in the Marines.

"I said, 'He's not interested, so stop calling,'" Vampola said in an interview last week.

He added that it's OK with him if his son joins the military, but not the Marines.

"Most of the people who are dying are Marines," Vampola said.

In reality, the Army has suffered the greatest number of deaths in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 1,818 Army soldiers, 773 Marines troops, 54 Navy sailors, 27 Air Force and one Coast Guard personnel have died in the war.

Oceanside resident Tina Hackedorn's experience and reaction were similar to Vampola's.

She said the first time a recruiter called, her son Jason, who was 17 at the time, answered the phone. But the second time, she did.

"I said I wouldn't want him to be in the Marines," Hackedorn said. "I don't want him to get over to Iraq and get killed."

Contact staff writer William Finn Bennett at (760) 740-5426 or wbennett@nctimes.com.

Ellie