of blacks joining military down
By Lolita C. Baldor,
Associated Press, 25 June 2007
The number of blacks joining the military has
plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars
began. Other job prospects are soaring and relatives of potential
recruits increasingly are discouraging them from joining the armed
According to data obtained by The Associated Press, the decline covers
all four military services for active duty recruits. The drop is even
more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.
The findings reflect the growing unpopularity of the wars, particularly
among family members and other adults who exert influence over high
school and college students considering the military as a place to serve
their country, further their education or build a career.
Walking past the Army recruiting station in downtown Washington, D.C.,
this past week, Sean Glover said he has done all he can to talk black
relatives out of joining the military.
"I don't think it's a good time. I don't support the government's
efforts here and abroad," said Glover, 36. "There's other ways you can
pay for college. There's other ways you can get your life together.
Joining the Army, the military, comes at a very high price."
The message comes as no surprise to the Pentagon. At the Defense
Department, efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and
Marine Corps so the country can better wage what the military believes
will be a long battle against terrorism.
"The global war on terror has taken its toll, no question," said Curt
Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accession policy, in an Associated
Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway agreed that the bloodshed in Iraq
- where more than 3,540 U.S. troops have died - is the biggest deterrent
for prospective recruits.
"The daily death toll that comes out is, I think, causing people who are
the influencers of young men and women in America to take a second
look," he said. "So I think that's probably the single most dominant
According to Pentagon data, there were nearly 51,500 new black recruits
for active duty and reserves in 2001. That number fell to less than
32,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decline.
When only active duty troops are counted, the number of black recruits
went from more than 31,000 in 2002 to about 23,600 in 2006, almost
The decline is particularly stark for the Army. Blacks represented about
23 percent of the active Army's enlisted recruits in 2000, but 12.4
percent in 2006.
The decline in black recruits overall has been offset partly by an
increase in Hispanic recruits and those who classify themselves as other
races or nationalities.
This category could include people who consider themselves Portuguese,
or of other European descent that are not covered by the main categories
of white, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan, black or
The active duty services largely have met recruiting targets in the past
two years, while the Army, Army National Guard and Air National Guard
fell short of their goals last month.
Sgt. Terry Wright, an Army recruiter in Tampa, Fla. said young people in
the black community have more education and job opportunities now than
when he joined the service 14 years ago.
"I go to high schools every day, and for the most part it strikes me how
many of them are serious about going to college," said Wright, 32.
He acknowledged recruiters are spending more time with parents and other
adults from whom potential recruits seek advice. In addition, he said
recruiters are speaking more often to community and ethnic groups to
encourage military service.
According to Conway, the Marine commandant, Marine recruiters "used to
spend four hours with the young recruit and four hours with those people
that we would call the influencers: the parents, the pastors, the
coaches, the teachers." Now, he said, they spend four hours with
recruits and 14 hours with influencers.
Gilroy, the Pentagon official, said the improving
economy is giving potential recruits more opportunities for better
paying jobs outside the military.
But he said the growing dissatisfaction with the war among black
political and community leaders, as well as parents and teachers, is a
major factor, too.
"The influencers of these youth have a larger effect on
African-Americans," Gilroy said. "Some have argued that, because of the
makeup of African-American families and the relatively more significant
roles (the families) play, moms have a greater influence on their
families. And we know that moms, in general, do not support the war."
Citing high-profile black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton,
Gilroy said, "We hear greater criticism of this administration's
policies and greater concerns about the effects of the war."
He said it is up to the country's leaders, particularly members of
Congress who have served in the military to "talk about the nobility of
With detailed, color-coded graphs, the military can chart the erosion in
support for the war among the adults who surround recruits of all
A green line denoting the percentage of grandparents likely to recommend
military service shows the steepest drop - from a high of 56 percent in
mid-2004 to 34 percent last fall. Support is lowest among mothers. At
the start of the war, 36 percent of moms would recommend military
service; by last fall, it was 25 percent.
Sgt. Carlos Alvarez, a recruiting station commander in Tampa, Fla., said
many minorities have strong family ties and winning over parents,
grandparents and other relatives is critical when talking to potential
"If you don't have a good relationship with the parents, you're not
going to go anywhere," he said. "The kid might want to do it, but it's
all about mom and dad."
Alvarez said it is not just high school students who turn to their
parents for approval. Potential recruits in their late 20s will tell
him, "I need to speak to my mom."
Conway said Marine recruiters need to "pump up the volume a little bit
in terms of their recruiting efforts."
The military services, meanwhile, have created Internet sites that offer
videos, downloads, interest tests and special pages for parents.
"You Made Them Strong. We'll Make Them Army Strong," says the headline
on the Army's Web site for parents. It includes details on salaries,
benefits, bonuses, education and training as well as stories about how a
recruit made her decision to join and how one soldier deployed to war.
The Navy, Air Force and Marine recruiting sites offer similar
information, often also in Spanish. Also available are personal stories
and videos of service members.
"I've tasked our recruiters with ensuring that our minority percentages
stay strong," Conway said. "We just want to make sure that we continue
to look like America in the Marine Corps."
At the same time, the military is opening the door to many recruits it
has not welcomed in the past. That includes people who are a bit older;
who score lower on aptitude tests; and who have medical conditions such
as asthma or attention deficit disorders that can be controlled better
now with medicine.
The Army, for example, increased its age limit for recruits from 35 to
But the key, Gilroy said, is to continue to shore up recruiting budgets,
particularly for the Army and Marine Corps, who are bearing the brunt of
the service on the wars' front lines.
"Recruiting is at the heart of the volunteer force," said Gilroy. "If we
don't get recruiting right, nothing else matters."
Associated Press writer Natasha Metzler contributed to this report.