November 22 2004, 6:00 AM
Army recuriters in Westminister are frazzled. They are under orders to recruit 14 soldiers a month. That's two a month for each recruiter in the office. It's tough duty.
This job will kill you," one recruiter says under his breath. "This is the most stressful job I have ever had."The recruiting station, located in a garden-variety strip mall, doesn't stand out from the neighboring stores.
But a complex drama unfolds here each day: This is where young men and women come to sign daunting contracts, to trade their freedom for discipline and adventure, to engage the recruiters in deep conversations â€“ and sometimes negotiations â€“ about valor, duty and fear.Given the war in Iraq and the war on terror, these recruiters face a daunting -- but very critical -- challenge.
If the Army can't make do with volunteers, as it's done for all but roughly 35 years of its 229-year existence, then it will need to conscript. And places like Westminster are where that question will be decided.On a recent day, after four 70 hour work weeks, the seven recruiters found themselves five soldiers short of their marching orders. Surprisingly, the problem is not entirely caused by a lack of volunteers. There's also the problem that many of the volunteers are unacceptable to the military.
Tattoos, diseases, injuries, obesity, legal troubles, low test scores, lack of a high school diploma -- all sorts of defects can disqualify, or "hack," a recruit. If there is any desperation, it's felt by recruiters and recruits alike. The hard part of meeting that monthly number, recruiters say, isn't selling people on the Army -- it's selecting people who meet the Army's standards.It's a sales game on both sides. The recruiters have their show ready for those that might qualify:
With his laptop, Hill shows recruits the Army's sexy new recruiting DVD: high-adrenaline rock music in sync with soldiers rappelling down mountains and parachuting out of planes. Most recruits are more interested in Hill's screensaver, a photo of him storming into Baghdad with the first U.S. troops. Nearly every recruit asks, and sometimes Hill tells them his stories, describes what it was like to sleep on the floor of Saddam Hussein's palace.Can 14 soldiers a month really make a difference? Maybe so, considering that they would make up 1/3 of a platoon. This is a fascinating portrait of both the recruiters and the recruited, the hunters and the hunted. Read the whole thing if you get a chance.