Uncle Sam Really Wants You!
With an all-voluntary American military falling short of key recruiting goals, it's not surprising that the Pentagon is ramping up enlistment efforts - and that some people, especially many parents, might react angrily to more intrusive targeting.
Despite meeting its June numbers, the Army is still nearly 8,000 troops behind this year's recruitment goal. Most of the National Guard and Reserve forces are also having difficulty.
The Pentagon can be pleased, however, with a strong level of reenlistment among current soldiers. They are re-upping at healthy levels, spurred by tax-free bonuses and also by their personal commitments to their unit buddies and military mission.
The recruitment challenge is due partly to anxiety about combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also to the competitive lure of jobs in a growing economy. Parents, teachers, and coaches are also less encouraging than just after Sept. 11 about military service. That's why Americans are witnessing their president as top recruiter, invoking patriotism to those with any inclination to sign up.
The uniformed services have had to increase enlistment bonuses, relax eligibility requirements, and boost the number of recruiters. But this intensified effort hasn't escaped controversy. In May, the Army suspended recruiting for a day to review recruiting ethics. Too many complaints had come in about excessive pressure.
Now privacy advocates are upset that the Pentagon has contracted with a marketing firm, BeNow Inc., to collect and consolidate data about high school students as young as 16, as well as all college students. The data are for identifying potential recruits, and includes ethnicity, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, subjects studied, and Social Security numbers.
Parents have complained about recruiters calling their homes using contact information that schools pass on to the military under the No Child Left Behind Act. But while parents or students can choose to withhold that information, they can't do that with the BeNow data bank, which can also collect data from commercial sources and state drivers' license records. Once in the BeNow bank, a person stays in, though he or she can choose not to be contacted.
Having a government-run entity collect such data is disturbing. But so is the fact that BeNow's information can be shared with state and local governments in areas unrelated to the military - e.g., law enforcement.
If Americans want to continue an all volunteer service, they must expect a military that will use current marketing methods. Indeed, the public must allow avenues for the military to reach potential recruits better .
But the military must remember it's not a marketing company. Unlike a company, a government has the potential for coercion. Just as the Army reviewed recruiting in May, the Pentagon should review BeNow for privacy concerns. At the least, it should allow a stronger opt-out.