HBO spotlights Army recruiting
Bear Mountain Company featured
By Alexa James
July 28, 2008
MIDDLETOWN Cut to a college fair in Houma, La. The high school
assembly is packed with parents and teens. A university flack ends
his sales pitch, then it's Sgt. 1st Class Clay Usie's turn.
As the Army recruiter begins his introduction, the crowd clears,
rattling chairs and gabbing on the way out, leaving the guy in the
uniform looking like the hired singer at a cocktail party.
Cut back to the Army recruiting office in Middletown, where watching
that scene play on a flat-screen television is just as awkward now as
it must have been a few years ago, when "The Recruiter" was filmed.
Bear Mountain Recruiting Company soldiers pre-screened the
documentary last week.
"I was quite surprised," said the company commander, Capt. Daniel
Tower, 27, of Massachusetts. "I actually liked it."
The 90-minute film spotlights one of the Army's most prolific
recruiters and follows four of his new enlistees through basic
training and up to their first deployments.
Department of Defense data shows that 1.1 million Americans are
currently serving in the Army. That's less than .4 percent of the population.
Most people, the recruiters said, get their military intelligence
from news bites and movies.
Recent films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as
"Stop-Loss," about soldiers' involuntary active duty service
extensions, and "In the Valley of Elah," about returning soldiers'
post-traumatic stress, depict a war and a military that's coming apart.
And now a new HBO miniseries dubbed "Generation Kill" traces the
invasion of Iraq through a lens of blood and political incorrectness.
But "The Recruiter," which debuts at 9 p.m. Monday on HBO, could
spread some useful footage for the Army's employers.
Tower said the teens who enlist from the rural towns outside New
Orleans are no different than those who join from the outskirts of
New York City.
They are high school standouts and misfits, too skinny and too fat.
They either like or hate their parents. Recruiters say much of their
time is spent educating candidates about today's changing military.
"You don't come out of high school and raise your right hand and
become a soldier," said Staff Sgt. John Hand, 24, of Chester. "I'm
still learning what it means to be a soldier."
Hand joined a peace-time Army in January 2001. He returned from Iraq
in 2005 and started recruiting four years ago. He tries to sign up
two people a month. The company mission is 40.
The Army is on track this year to meet its annual goal of 80,000 new
faces by Sept. 30.
It's not all about the quotas, Hand said. A new recruit means "I've
changed somebody's life permanently. Whether they have a good
experience or a bad experience, it's my experience too."
Saluting a Tough Job
On HBO, 'The Recruiter' Passes Muster
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 28, 2008
The sales pitch is a tough one: Leave your family and your home, go
through a grueling training program and then ship off to war -- where
you could come home without all your parts, or not come home at all.
For Sgt. 1st Class Clay Usie, recruiting young men and women to join
the Army is the "hardest job in America today." Support for the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan has eroded, parents and teachers and coaches
are less likely to recommend the military as a career and fewer than
three in 10 young Americans are qualified to join.
But Usie, who believes his job is critical to defending the nation,
turns recruiting into a lifestyle, rising at 5 a.m. to lift weights
with candidates and to run with teenagers who struggle to make it two
miles. Usie is not only one of the nation's best recruiters -- he is
also a friend, a mentor, a cheerleader, a drill sergeant and, beneath
it all, a salesman.
"The Recruiter," an HBO documentary that premieres tonight, follows
Usie as he works in his home town of Houma, La. It is a touching
portrait of a man dedicated to serving his country but also a starkly
honest view of the nation's struggle with military service in a time of war.
Although focused on a small town in Louisiana, the story could take
place almost anywhere in the United States. Teenagers decide whether
to pursue dead-end jobs, a college education or the military, all the
while navigating the desires of their parents, some of whom
desperately want them to stabilize their lives while others fear
sending their children to violence halfway around the world.
"I'm sure Iraq is full of a bunch of nice people, but should my son
die for them?" asks one father and military veteran, whose son Bobby
could be college-bound but has dedicated himself to becoming an elite
Army Ranger. "That's the conflict I have."
The documentary is as much about Usie as it is about four young
recruits with dramatically different reasons for considering the
Army. In addition to Bobby: Lauren wants to emerge from poverty, and
her mother wants her to straighten out; Chris is enticed by financial
benefits; Matt idolizes Usie and his dedication to the country.
The United States is facing its toughest recruiting environment in
the history of the all-volunteer Army, with the armed services aiming
to grow at the same time they must fight two wars. In fiscal 2005,
when the film is set, the Army missed its annual goal of 80,000
recruits by about 10 percent. It got back on track but then missed
marks twice last year, as young Americans again were opting for other
types of work.
Likewise, during Usie's recruiting, Houma is hit with tragedy as six
Louisiana National Guardsmen are killed in January 2005, when a
roadside bomb rips through their Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq.
The community, shaken -- as many are when casualties leap from the
faceless statistics in the news and hit close to home -- begins to
spurn the recruiters. People hang up the phones, candidates dwindle,
college fairs empty when Usie steps to the microphone.
At a memorial service for the dead, Usie assures a family member that
the Army is not going to quit. "Your son gave me everything," Usie
says. He then turns to one of the soldier's younger brothers and
begins his pitch anew, inviting him to come by the recruiting station
if he needs anything; Usie also wants to give him a new Army video game.
Another recruiter in the office says they're just doing their part
"to fill the foxholes in Iraq and Afghanistan." A veteran of Iraq,
the recruiter says he saw lots of people hurt on the battlefield,
noting grimly, "I don't like talking about stuff that I saw in Iraq."
In perhaps the most revealing element of the film, "The Recruiter"
moves past the courting phase and on to the Army's basic training
program, providing a rare glimpse inside Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort
Benning, Ga. It strips almost all romance from the process,
highlighting a young recruit's panic attack -- "It happens quite a
bit," says one trainer -- endless sit-ups and push-ups, and the
sudden realization by some that this is all in preparation for going to war.
At the same time, the young recruits are inspiring, showing unbridled
enthusiasm and dedication to doing it right and defending the nation.
They leave their tearful loved ones behind to pursue a dirty, gritty,
dangerous job that does not promise survival. "The Recruiter"
captures all of this, not judging the teenagers' decisions but
careful in showing that none of it is easy -- for Usie, for the
families at home or for those who have chosen the Army as a way of life.
Bobby's father, tearing up and stumbling over his words, says he will
be thinking one thing when the time comes to take his son to the
airport: "Old men start wars that young men fight."
The Recruiter (90 minutes) debuts tonight at 9 on HBO.
Josh White is a military correspondent for The Post who was embedded
with U.S. troops in Iraq in 2004 and 2006.
Film follows Houma soldier as he converts others to his belief in
By Naomi King
Published: Sunday, July 27, 2008
HOUMA -- Sgt. 1st Class Clay Usie of Houma has faced his share of
challenges, but he said he approached the mission of recruiting
soldiers during wartime with intensity and compassion.
A documentary set for release Monday on HBO follows the
now-33-year-old Usie as he prepares and trains four recruits in Houma
to become soldiers.
In the process, Usie became a mentor and motivator for many of the
recruits, including Cpl. Matthew Marks, an H.L. Bourgeois graduate
who has been on recruiting duty in Houma since May. Other featured
recruits include Terrebonne High graduate Bobby Barrios, Central
Lafourche High graduate Chris Daigle and H.L. Bourgeois graduate
Marks, now 21, said he still looks up to Usie. In the film, Usie
stands in Marks' wedding to high-school sweetheart Jessica.
Director Edet Belzberg, whose work has earned several awards, an
Oscar nomination and a spot in the Sundance Film Festival, said she
wanted to make a film that would help her understand why people join
the military and that would look at their lives before doing so.
"We can all remember being 17 and 18 and it's a really difficult time
and you are making difficult decisions and you want someone to help
and guide you," Belzberg said in a phone interview. "For me, it was
very important to understand and see the transition from teenager to
soldier. And the reason kids join is an important process, and to
understand for us in America, why our children are joining."
Living in New York at the start of the Iraq war, Belzberg said she
felt disconnected from the war while reading the names of fallen
soldiers in newspapers.
"Houma, when I would come there, I felt I was in a country at war.
You felt that everyone had some type of relationship with what's
happening," Belzberg said. "Those names, they were not anonymous to
me anymore. ...
"I hope that everyone would feel that connection to the people who
are serving, the families who are experiencing it."
Belzberg decided to focus on Houma-bred Usie because she read about
his earning the 2004 Army Times Soldier of the Year as the top
recruiter in his battalion and one of the best in the nation.
The documentary was shot over the course of a year, starting in 2004.
During his three years as a recruiter, Usie recruited 72 soldiers
when his quota was 30.
He has been in the military for nearly 13 years.
"I don't necessarily attribute success to how many guys I got to join
the army," Usie said. "I attribute it to how I served and represented
Along with serving in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Usie has served three
tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Usie said his success as a recruiter was not the result of incessant
pestering or slick sales pitches.
For Usie, the task was a mission that he wholeheartedly believes in.
"I was very forthright in my mission, no different than if I'm in a
mission in Afghanistan," Usie said. "We're an all-volunteer force,
and without the military recruiter, we do not have men and women who
stand in the ranks to protect."
Recruiting is not the easy desk job some people believe it is either,
he said. Most recruiters have served in combat, so they can give true
accounts to enlistees.
Usie said he never sugar-coated the realities of military life
because the recruits needed to make informed decisions.
Asked if he felt the film accurately portrayed him, Usie said it did,
for the most part.
"I feel that in certain situations that I was. In some situations,
all the food wasn't presented on the table," Usie said about each
recruit's circumstances and family life. "But the vast majority of
the film I think portrayed the reality of military recruiting."
Usie certainly didn't hold back. In the film, he has his frustrations.
"My convictions are strong and opinionated," Usie said. "I believe I
was called into service for a higher purpose."
His parents, Donna and Randy Usie, a Terrebonne Parish sheriff's
deputy, said they always knew their son was meant to be a soldier.
"Of course, during wartime it was a worry," Donna said about her son
joining in 1995. "I just know he was born to be a soldier."
Currently on leave, Usie's spending time with family and friends in
Houma before reporting for duty in August at Fort Benning, Ga., to
serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Usie said he couldn't be as successful without the support of his
family -- including his wife, 34-year-old Tammy, and daughters,
15-year-old Kirstin and 14-year-old Randi.
In the film, he and Tammy must cancel a family vacation because of a
But as Usie explained, scheduling conflicts happen in any dual-career marriage.
But Tammy has always been his best battle buddy and has stood behind him.
At his parents' home near Coteau Road and La. 24 in Houma this week,
Usie sat in the living room filled with deer antlers, mounted fish
and family pictures.
In this relaxed family environment, Usie wore flip-flops but still
displayed his unwavering patriotism with flare.
He wore a white T-shirt with the American flag inside the words "Tap
Out America," imposed with the Declaration of Independence in the
background. Instead of bedtime stories, his father, Randy, read him
history, Usie said.
At the Armed Forces Career Center in Houma, Cpl. Matthew Marks is
filling Usie's boots and even resurrecting the Future Soldiers
Program, which prepares recruits like he once was for basic training.
A relatively soft-spoken man, he said he's worried viewers might walk
away from the film with bad impressions of recruiting.
For instance, not everyone goes into combat, he said. Marks said he
also felt the documentary and the media coverage of it has portrayed
him as only having the Army as an option after high school.
His grades were good enough to go to college on a TOPS scholarship,
Marks said, but he followed his long-time goal to join the Army instead.
Now a homeowner with his first child on the way, Marks said he still
enjoys the challenges of being a soldier, whether physical demands or
"It's about defending our freedom," Marks said.