I read a very sad story today from Time Magazine about the alarming suicide rate of U.S. Army recruiters. The United States is in the longest running war waged by an all-volunteer Army in history. Early on, patriotism in the wake of 9/11 made a recruiter's gig pretty steady. Now things aren't so easy. The longer the war drags on, the harder it is to convince young men and women to sign up for what will most likely mean a long tour of duty in an inhospitable land. The problem is, recruiters are still expected to sign two recruits per month, even if it means working 15 hour days, seven days a week.
Burnout is typical during wartime and suicide is no stranger to the military. But last year alone, the number of suicides by recruiters was three times the rate for the rest of the Army. Add to this -- 73 percent of recruiters are soldiers that have returned from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army Recruiting Command is quietly known to urge recruiters to sign kids by any means necessary. The story points out, anonymously, that recruiters have asked potential candidates to lie about details that would keep them out of the Army as well as crossing other ethical boundaries. One unnamed recruiter says he's seen candidates forced to guzzle gallons of water in order to pass drug tests.
Recruiters who don't sign their allotment of two per month are berated, threatened with demotion and made to feel worthless. The story focuses on the unit in Houston, Tex., where four recruiters have committed suicide since 2005. After a story ran in the Houston Chronicle, Republican Senator John Cornyn demanded and got a still ongoing investigation.
Nobody wants a draft to be reinstated, but consider this -- if every recruiter signed two recruits per month, the Army would enlist 180,000 soldiers a year. How many do they say they need? 80,000.