At some level, the situation is simple enough.
As retired Lt. Col. Charles A. Krohn, former Army deputy chief of public affairs
at the Pentagon and in Baghdad, put it recently in the
Washington Post, the Bush administration has "basically committed
most of the Army's active forces (including much of the National Guard), rotating
them to the point of exhaustion." Eric Schmitt and David S. Cloud, in a front-page
story in the Monday New York Times ("Part-Time
Forces on Active Duty Decline Steeply") sum up part of the problem this way:
"The Army says it has found ways to handle the dwindling pool of reservists
eligible to fill the support jobs [in Iraq], but some members of Congress, senior
retired Army officers and federal investigators are less sanguine, warning that
barring a reduction in the Pentagon's requirement to supply 160,000 forces in
Iraq and Afghanistan, or a change in its mobilization policy, the Army will
exhaust the supply of soldiers in critical specialties.
"'By next fall, we'll have expended our ability to use National Guard brigades
as one of the principal forces,' said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star
Army commander who was dispatched to Iraq last month to assess the operation.
'We're reaching the bottom of the barrel.'"
All of this has come in the course of fighting two small, ugly, colonial-style
wars. And just because Iraq in particular is increasingly, in Krohn's phrase,
a "sustained and unpopular war," refilling the ranks has proved no small problem
for the Pentagon, which has recently found itself scraping the bottom of that
recruitment barrel in all sorts of ways. This may sooner or later result in
what Krohn calls a "hollow army." Add to this the near-guaranteed loss of much
of what's left of the none-too-impressive "coalition" in Iraq in the next year
– the Italians announced their first withdrawal of forces this week (to begin
in September), the Brits are planning a major drawdown relatively soon, the
stay of the Japanese troops (already largely locked inside their base in southern
Iraq) is in question – and the Bush administration is soon likely to find itself,
like the cheese of children's song, standing very much alone in its mission,
with a major domestic and international recruitment crisis on its hands.
In fact, we may be watching a new phenomenon: withdrawal by military overstretch.
Now, thanks to one
of those documents that seem to leak constantly from crucial file drawers
in England these days – a memo written by British Defense Minister John Reid
– we know that not just the Brits, but the Pentagon has been seriously considering
a major draw-down of forces in Iraq by early 2006, a near halving of American
troop strength there. According
to the Washington Post, "The [British] paper, which is marked 'Secret
– UK Eyes Only,' said 'emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces
could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,' allowing a reduction in
overall U.S.-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. … The undated memo, which
was reported in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday, stated that 'current
U.S. political military thinking is still evolving. But there is a strong U.S.
military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall
U.S. commitment levels.'" Of course, given that it's Iraq we're talking about,
between planning document and reality there are likely to be many
And the "withdrawal" is conceptual as well. The American imperial mission
is visibly buckling under the strain. (The 19th century Brits must be turning
over in their graves as American power crumbles under the weight of small wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq.) Until recently, the Pentagon, in its congressionally
mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, has stuck to a two-war model of global
dominance – our military should, in essence, be able to mount a decisive invasion
of Iraq and fight a second major campaign elsewhere on the planet almost as
decisively at more or less the same moment (while still being capable of defending
what is now commonly referred to as "the homeland"). Just last week, however,
Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times reported ("Pentagon
Weighs Strategy Change to Deter Terror") that the "Pentagon's most senior
planners" were challenging that model in fierce internal debates and were opting
instead for being prepared to wage but a single invasion-of-Iraq-style war combined
with smaller counterinsurgency operations and a bolstering of domestic anti-terrorism
defenses. As Fred Kaplan recently commented in Slate online ("The
Doctrine Gap"), this will probably make no actual difference in the size,
shape, or staggering cost of our military. But it is significant nonetheless.
It represents a downsizing of ambitions, what the ancient Chinese might have
called "the rectification of names" – or the bringing of the naming of things
back into line with reality.
And inside the Pentagon, that reality couldn't be clearer right now. After
all, with the civilian leadership of the Bush administration proving itself
almost incapable of finding willing natives out there in the imperium to fight
its wars for it, military representatives have been discovering in the last
year that the natives at home are restless as well. The services have responded
to this situation by trolling desperately for future troops, thinking
about a draft, and, as we know from recent news reports, starting to cut
endless corners. Recruiters, for instance, preying on the supposed naïveté
and susceptibility to bullying tactics of adolescents, have been discovered
instructing teens in lying
to their parents, forging documents, and beating the Army's drug-test system.
When all else failed, jail time seems to have been a threat of choice. Interestingly,
some of those teens have fought back, going public with a spate of scandalous
revelations that forced
a one-day "values
stand-down" during which the military's recruiting standards were to be
But, as Dr. Seuss might have said, that is not all… oh no, that is not all.
As Nick Turse shows below, the military has ramped up its operations not only
out there in the real world, but in the ether of the Internet where that handsome,
friendly civilian you might just happen to run across may turn out to be none
other than your local recruitment officer on the prowl. Tom
An Army of (No) One
An Inside Look at the Military's Internet Recruiting War
by Nick Turse
It's been a tough year for the U.S. military.
But you wouldn't know it from the Internet, now increasingly packed with slick,
nonmilitary looking Web sites of every sort that are lying in wait for curious
teens (or their exasperated parents) who might be surfing by. On the ground,
the military may be bogged down in a seemingly interminable mission that was
back on May 1, 2003, but on the Web it's still a be-all-that-you-can-be world
of advanced career choices, peaceful pursuits, and risk-free excitement.
While there has been a wave of news reports recently on the Pentagon's problems
putting together an all-volunteer
military, or even a functioning
officer corps, from an increasingly reluctant public, military officials
are ahead of the media in one regard. They know where the future troops they
need are. Hint: They're not reading newspapers or watching the nightly
primetime news, but they are surfing the Web, looking for entertainment,
information, fun, and perhaps even a future.
In addition to raising the maximum
enlistment age, no longer dismissing
new recruits out of hand for "drug abuse, alcohol, poor fitness, and pregnancy,"
allowing those with criminal
records in, and employing such measures as hefty
$20,000 sign-up bonuses (with talk of proposed future bonuses of up to $40,000,
along with $50,000 worth of "mortgage assistance") to coerce the cash-strapped
to enlist in the all-volunteer military, one of the military's favorite
methods of bolstering the rolls is targeting the young – specifically teens
– to fill the ranks.
What the military truly values is green teens. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon
like Teenage Research Unlimited
(TRU), which claims it offers its "clients virtually unlimited methods for
researching teens," to get inside kids' heads. It was also recently revealed
that the Department of Defense (DoD), with the aid of a private marketing firm,
BeNow, has created a database
of 12 million youngsters, some only 16 years of age, as part of a program to
identify potential recruits. Armed with "names, birth dates, addresses, Social
Security numbers, individuals' e-mail addresses, ethnicity, telephone numbers,
students' grade-point averages, field of academic study, and other data," the
Pentagon now has far better ways and means of accurately targeting teens.
(Military) Culture JAMRS
BeNow and TRU, however, are just two of a number of private contractors working
through JAMRS – the Pentagon's
"program for joint marketing communications and market research and studies"
– to fill the ranks of our increasingly-less-eager-to-volunteer military. JAMRS
claims that it's only developing "public programs [to] help broaden people's
understanding of Military Service as a career option." However, it also hires
firms to engage in all sorts of not-for-public-consumption studies that are
meant to "help bolster the effectiveness of all the Services' recruiting and
retention efforts." Put another way, behind the scenes, the military is in a
frantic search for weak points in the public's growing resistance to joining
the armed services. Some of this is impossible to learn about because access
to the studies via the JAMRS Web portal is restricted. Should you visit and
inquire about examining their research, you are told in no uncertain terms that
"access is currently limited to certain types of users" – none of which are
What we do know, however, is that JAMRS is currently focusing on
the following areas
of interest in an attempt to bolster the all-volunteer military:
- Hispanic Barriers to Enlistment: a project to "identify the factors
contributing to under-representation of Hispanic youth among military accessions"
and "inform future strategies for increasing Hispanic representation among
the branches of the Military."
- College Drop Outs/Stop Outs Study: a project "aimed to gain a better
understanding of what drives college students to … 'drop out' and determine
how the Services can capitalize on this group of individuals (ages 18-24)."
- Mothers' Attitude Study: "This study gauges the target audience's
(270 mothers of 10th- and 11th-grade youth) attitudes toward the Military
During the Vietnam War, Hispanics took disproportionate numbers of casualties,
disparities have been reported
in Iraq. JAMRS, apparently, is looking to make certain that this military
tradition is maintained. Additionally, eyebrows ought to be raised over a Pentagon
that is looking at ways to influence the mothers of teens to send their sons
and daughters off to war and at a military eager to study what it takes to get
kids to "drop out" of school and how the military might then scoop them up.
Perhaps the most intriguing line of research, however, is the "Moral Waiver
Study" whose seemingly benign goal is "to better define relationships between
pre-Service behaviors and subsequent Service success." What the JAMRS informational
page doesn't make clear, but what might be better explained in the password-protected
section of the site, is that a "moral character waiver" is the means by which
potential recruits with criminal records are allowed to enlist in the U.S. military.
Another of JAMRS' partners is Mullen Advertising, which "works with JAMRS on
an array of marketing communications, planning, and strategic initiatives. This
work includes public-facing, influencer-focused joint offline and online advertising
campaigns." One Mullen effort is the very unmilitary-sounding MyFuture.com.
It's a slick Web site with information on such topics as living on your own,
writing a cover letter, or finding a job, and includes tips on dressing for
success. ("Take extra time to look great.") Without the usual telltale .mil
domain name, MyFuture offers what seems like civilian career advice (albeit
with some military images sprinkled throughout). You can, for instance, take
its Work Interest Quiz in order to discover if you should "go to college or
look for a job." However, the more you explore, the more you see that the site
is really about steering youngsters toward the armed forces. For example, when
you take that quiz, you are prompted to ask your school guidance counselor "about
taking the ASVAB Career Exploration Program if you'd like to know more about
your aptitudes, values, and interests…." Not mentioned is that the ASVAB is
actually the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery – a test developed during
the Vietnam War as "the
admissions and placement test for the U.S. military."
When I took the quiz, I was told: "Based on your responses to the activities
listed, here are the work styles that may be appropriate for you: Investigative
[and] Artistic." To follow up on my investigative aptitude, MyFuture.com offered
eight civilian career suggestions, ranging from veterinarian to meteorologist.
It also recommended eight military counterparts including Law Enforcement and
Security Specialist. For my artistic aptitude, MyFuture suggested that I "may
like activities that: 'Allow [me] to be creative [and] Let [me] work according
to [my] own rules.'" Apparently, there are eight military jobs that will allow
me to stretch my imagination and do just what I want, artistically speaking.
Who knew, for example, that the perfect move for an artistic freethinker would
be joining an organization based on authority and conformity – and then becoming
a "Food Service Specialist"?
MyFuture.com claims that its "website is provided as a public service," while
the JAMRS site refers to it as a "public site for potential military candidates
to discover more about career opportunities appropriate for their interests."
Of course, it's really an effort to recruit kids.
Tomorrow's Military, Today?
Another Mullen Advertising-created site is aimed at a different population.
Like MyFuture, Today'sMilitary.com
is a polished-looking site that lacks a .mil in its Web address, but instead
of targeting teens, the Web site announces that it "seeks to educate parents
and other adults about the opportunities and benefits available to young people
in the Military today." In JAMRS-speak that means it's a "public site targeted
Today'sMilitary.com is filled with information on financial incentives available
to those who join the military and Web pages devoted to "what it's like" to
be in the armed forces and how the military can "turn young diamonds in the
rough into the finest force on the face of the earth." We learn that Army basic
training is "[m]ore than just pushups and mess halls." In fact, quite the opposite
of a torture test, it's actually a "nine-week-long journey of self-discovery."
The Marines' boot camp comes across as an even more routine, though less introspective,
affair with nary a mention of its rigors aside from "a final endurance test
of teamwork." Scanning through the pages, we even learn that life in the military
is not just "exciting, challenging and hugely rewarding," but that in their
off-time, military folk "go for walks … and they even shop for antiques" (which
may account for some
of the antiquities that seem to go missing from Iraq).
Today's Military even takes the time to dispel "myths" like: "People
in the Military are not compensated as well as private sector workers."
According to Today's Military, they are – just don't tell it to the Marines
who recently roughed
up their highly-paid mercenary counterparts in Iraq. "One Marine gets me
on the ground and puts his knee in my back. Then I hear another Marine say,
'How does it feel to make that contractor money now?'" So reported a former
Marine now working in the war zone as a "private security contractor." Mercenaries
in Iraq generally rake in $100,000 to $200,000 per year. Earlier this year,
under pressure from Congress, the
Pentagon announced that it, too, would start paying out this type of cash.
One caveat – you've got to be dead.
Such unpleasantries as death and combat go largely unmentioned on Today'sMilitary.com
(or on any of the other sites mentioned in this article). In fact, the only
such allusion is on a Web page that coaches parents on ways to push their children
to consider the military. It instructs parents to "[e]ncourage them with subtle
hints" to foster conversation on the subject and offers talking points to refute
the possible trepidation of your own little potential enlistee about the armed
forces. Among the "tough questions" a child might raise is a simple fact, driven
home nightly on the news: "It's dangerous." Today's Military offers the following
"There's no doubt that a military career isn't for everyone. But you and
your young person may be surprised to learn that over 80% of military jobs are
in non-combat operations. … A military career is often what you make of it."
Tell that to noncombat troops like Jessica Lynch, the late Corporal Holly Charette
delivering mail for the Marines) and her fellow fourteen
casualties from a recent suicide car-bomb attack on a Marine Corps Civil
Affairs team in Fallujah, or the large number of other troops in support roles
who have found themselves directly in harm's way. As a Voice
of America article recently put it, "Increasingly, there is a fine line
between combat and noncombat jobs, especially in a place like Iraq, where there
is no front line, and any unit can find itself in a firefight at any moment."
Assault and (Aptitude) Battery
Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, head of the Army Recruiting Command,
recently stated, "Having
access to 17- to 24-year-olds is very key to us. We would hope that every
high school administrator would provide those lists [of student phone numbers
and addresses] to us. They're terribly important for what we're trying to
do." In the wake of the revelation of the Pentagon's massive new database
of America's youth, Chief
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita claimed, "We are trying to use appropriate
methods to make ourselves competitive in the marketplace for these kids who
have a lot of choices." But as Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden
Heuvel recently wrote in her Editor's
Cut blog, it isn't just choices keeping the kids away:
"The debacle in Iraq has made recruiting an impossibly difficult job and
recruiters are sinking to new lows in the face of growing pressure to fulfill
monthly quotas as well as fierce opposition from parents who don't support the
president's botched Iraq war mission."
One of the military's new lows brings us back to the subject of ASVAB and the
methods of the Vietnam era. Faced then with the need for expendable troops,
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara instituted an unholy coupling of the War
on Poverty and the War in Vietnam – Project 100,000. Project 100,000 called
for the military, each year, to admit into service 100,000 men who had failed
its qualifying exam. The program claimed that it would outfit those who failed
to meet mental standards, men McNamara called the "subterranean poor," with
an education and training that would be useful upon their return to civilian
life. Instead of acquiring skills useful for the civilian job market, however,
"McNamara's moron corps," as they came to be known within the military, were
trained for combat at markedly elevated levels, were disproportionately sent
to Vietnam, and had double the death rate of American forces as a whole.
Today, a desperate Pentagon seems to be following a strikingly similar path.
As Eric Schmitt of the New York Times has written, the Army is increasingly
turning to high-school dropouts, has already almost doubled last year's number
of recruits scoring in the lowest level on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude
Battery, and is "accepting
hundreds of recruits in recent months who would have been rejected a year
ago." Meanwhile, those who happen upon the Pentagon's ASVAB
Web site will find another slick design, with few military trappings, no
.mil Web address, and lots of objective career counseling. You have to
troll around the site to discover in the fine print that it's offered as a "public
service by the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center."
Like Today'sMilitary.com, the ASVAB site makes a pitch to parents,
exhorting them to "[e]ncourage your teen to take the ASVAB." It also tries
to influence teachers to "[i]ntegrat[e] the ASVAB Program Into the Classroom,"
even recommending that portions be "assigned as homework" to students.
Strapped for bodies, the Pentagon is putting on a full court press to fill
the ranks. Its new package of promotion includes: big signing bonuses and drastically
lowered standards; NASCAR,
professional bull-riding, and Arena Football sponsorships; video
games that double as recruiting tools; TV commercials that drip with seductive
scenes of military glory or feature The Apprentice host Donald
Trump; disingenuous career counseling Web sites; and an integrated
"joint marketing communications and market research and studies" program actively
engaged in measures to target Hispanics, "drop outs," and those with criminal
records for military service. The Department of Defense, in short, is pulling
out all the stops, sparing no expense, and spending at least $16,000
in promotional costs alone for each single soldier signed up.
Obviously, the Pentagon wants recruits badly, and cash-strapped teens represent
one of the best chances to fill uniforms. The military clearly thinks that America's
youth couldn't really pass your basic intelligence test. Its Web sites downplay
danger, and its slick TV commercials show bloodless scenes of adventure and
heroism that don't square with images (and news) now coming home from Iraq to
anybody's neighborhood. From hiccupping recruitment rates, it's clear, however,
that America's teens already know these ads and Web sites are missing a few
critical elements – scenes of American troops acting as foreign occupiers, killing
civilians, torturing detainees, fanning the flames of discontent, and failing
to deliver basic safety or security not just for Iraqis but for their own troops.
Nick Turse works in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University.
He writes for the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, and regularly
for TomDispatch on the military-corporate complex and the homeland security
Copyright 2005 Nick Turse