Military Steps Up Drive to Recruit Latinos
|by Harold Jordan|
Military recruiters have stepped up their attempts to get Latinos to join the services. This drive is partly a response to what has been a difficult recruiting climate. It is also based on recognition by recruiters that Latinos are a fast growing segment of the youth population, but have long been considered "under-represented" in the military. In this climate, recruiting officials are placing a greater emphasis on targeted recruitment in specific markets - a sort of niche recruiting - as opposed to general recruitment and advertising.
Latino Youth and Recruiting Challenges
Recruiters have long wanted to increase Latino enlistment rates. Latinos make up 6.3% of today's military - 7% of enlisted ranks; only 3% of officers - but 11% of the population of 18-44 year olds. Among young people ages 18-24, the prime recruiting market, Latinos make up 14.3% of the nation's youth, but only about 10% of new recruits. According to Census Bureau projections, Latinos are expected to make up 18% of 12-44-year-olds by the year 2020. This means that the services would have to triple the proportion of Latinos in order to match the civilian population.
For the Pentagon this is more than just a numbers game. Current recruiting difficulties have caused military officials to place an even greater emphasis on expanding Latino enlistment.
Young people have been less interested in the military since the Gulf War. This is especially true for Black youth and for young people who hold high school diplomas. The Pentagon's annual survey of high school youth, the Youth Attitude Tracking Survey, documents this decline. Military officials argue that their youth surveys indicate that Latino youth are less hostile to joining the military than Black youth.
The Army and Navy have been hit hardest by the shift in attitudes since the Gulf War. In the year ending September 30, 1998 (Fiscal Year 1998), both service branches fell significantly short of their enlistment goals, the Navy leading the way with a shortfall of 6,900 anticipated new recruits. In the past few years, the services (especially the Army) have been able to mask these problems by putting out mid-year figures suggesting recruiting difficulties, begging Congress for more resources (money and recruiters) and getting them, accepting more non-diploma high school graduates (i.e., young people with General Educational Development, or GEDs), lowering enlistment goals, then declaring victory at the end of the year. This maneuver will be less possible in the future as recruiting goals shoot up and the military force reductions come to a close. The Army has set a goal of bringing in 82,923 new recruits in Fiscal Year 2001, 11,000 more new soldiers than joined the military in 1998.
Just how to get more Latinos to join the services is still being hotly debated in Pentagon circles. Recruiting officials argue that two factors get in the way of expanded Latino enlistment: (1) inability of many Latino youth, especially recent immigrants, to speak English fluently and (2) low high school completion rates. Some recruiters have also acknowledged (Los Angeles Times, 4/30/98) that one of the difficulties in selling the military to some Latino youths from immigrant families is that these families "come from places where the military is associated with hierarchy and corruption, rather than opportunity."
The options being considered most seriously include dramatically expanding outreach to Latino communities by establishing partnerships with Latino organizations, doing outreach to younger Latinos (in junior high schools or middle schools), and raising the number of Latinos admitted to the services with alternative credentials (GEDs, etc.). More controversial is a proposal being advocated by Lt. Gen. Edward Baca, head of the National Guard Bureau, that would change the military's enlistment and placement test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, to eliminate cultural bias.
Although the full details of a long-range strategy are not yet resolved, several initiatives are underway:
Permitting non-diploma graduates to join the services in any substantial numbers is very controversial, yet recruiting officials propose to use these relaxed entrance requirements to enhance their Latino recruiting effort. Military officials have long argued that soldiers without traditional high school diplomas perform more poorly and are less likely to complete their term of service than other soldiers. Recruiting officials are very concerned that changing credentialing requirements in order to bring in more Latinos would be seen by some whites as an unfair lowering of standards. The services are currently facing at least three "reverse discrimination" lawsuits challenging the promotion system. It bears noting that a disproportionate number of recruits joining the services in recent years with alternative credentials are classified as "white (not of Hispanic origin)."
It is clear that the services are mounting a major effort to expand Latino enlistment. Other initiatives are likely in the coming year. Whether these initiatives will be successful depends on many factors: the climate of opinion in diverse Latino communities; how these communities see and interpret the condition of returning Latino vets, including Gulf War vets; how Latino education activists view the military vs. other alternatives; and how community activists respond to this latest military incursion. Perhaps the most likely consequence of aggressive recruiting is an increase in a form of abuse known all too well to service members recruitment fraud.
Harold Jordan coordinates the American Friends Service Committee's National Youth and Militarism Program.
FACTS ABOUT LATINOS AND THE MILITARY
LATINO ENLISTMENT RATES
Latino enlistments have grown from 4% (1983) to 10% (FY97) of new recruits. The Marines and the Navy are the most successful branches at recruiting Latinos.
BACKGROUNDS OF LATINO RECRUITS
GENDER OF NEW LATINO RECRUITS
HOMES OF LATINO RECRUITS
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND OF NEW RECRUITS
* Includes regular high school graduates, adult diploma holders, and non-graduates with at least 15 hours of college credit.
** Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
HOW THE MILITARY CLASSIFIES SERVICE MEMBERS
The Department of Defense divides service members into five racial categories for statistical purposes:
Other Articles of Note:
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© American Friends Service Committee · National Youth & Militarism Program 1998, 1999