Hard Times Are Good for Military Recruitment
Oskar Castro

Young people experience the “cool” environment of real weapons at the Army Experience Center. They can check out mission simulators, Apache and Blackhawk Helicopters, high-tech video simulators and more. Photo: Army Experience Center

With the election of President Barack Obama many believe the US is entering the age of a new Camelot where all that was recently wrong with US domestic and foreign policy will begin to change. These hopes clash with the reality of a worsening economy and the struggle to make ends meet as people are laid off with little hope of finding another job. While banks and corporations get bailed out, average people must fend for themselves. One of the trends experts and journalists are noticing is that some are enlisting in the US military to bail themselves out.

In recent years the military has been the employer of last resort for the marginalized. This often meant that poor and working class people enlisted because they were under-educated or under-employed and needed what the military claimed to offer.

These challenging economic times are compelling middle and lower middle class individuals to likewise see the perceived benefits of enlistment as appealing. David Chu, undersecretary of the Department of Defense, has noted that the military gains when things look less positive in civil society. It is clear that the military is working to attract those who wouldn't have ordinarily considered the military as an employer.

The Military Alternatives Education Project (MAEP), a coalition of local peace and social justice organizations, believes that young people deserve full information about the choices they face regarding war and military service. We believe that the community has a responsibility to ensure that young people have access to this information. We also believe that everyone has the right to a college education and job training.

MAEP regularly staffs informational tables at high schools and community events. In April we participated in two high school career fairs and the Red Cross Southside community fair. Among the resources we provide are: information on non-traditional careers, paid and unpaid post-high school service opportunities, non-military sources of college funding, key questions to ask military recruiters, common myths about military service, free stickers and buttons opposing military recruitment, and much more.

MAEP is always in need of more people to staff tables, identify new opportunities for presentations and improve our display materials. Please contact Jessica to get involved.

The Department of Defense budgeted $1.6 billion for FY 2009 to cover "recruitment and advertising" for all the branches. Looking at the President's budget it is no longer easy to see the total cost of military recruitment efforts. These would include such things as the cost of vehicles leased or owned by the military for local recruiters, and the cost of recruiting centers leased by each individual branch. Nonetheless, we do know that the Army, for example, has taken a $12 million experimental measure to attract individuals in what they call a "marketing and sales experiment" designed to use Army simulators and video games as a draw. Its new recruitment facility, known as the Army Experience Center (AEC), is strategically placed in an outlet shopping mall in the Greater Northeast part of Philadelphia. Northeast Philadelphia is not an area known for its affluence.

The AEC is supposed to be a pilot program that lasts two years and could be the model for other centers in shopping malls around the nation. Reports show that the new AEC has brought in more recruits during its first few months of operation than regular Army recruitment offices obtain in a year. If the US economy remains stagnant we can presume that the military will be there to pick up the pieces as more middle class individuals find themselves struggling to survive.

Oskar directs the National Youth and Militarism Program of the American Friends Service Committee and is based in Philadelphia