January 04, 2009
Times West Virginian [Editorial]
Imagine a job where you are paid to convince young men and women to
volunteer to put their lives on the line in a place that still haunts
you. Imagine setting up booths to attract high schoolers into a
profession where they could meet their end before the ink is dry on
Imagine quotas, demanding work schedules, extreme job pressure and
consequences for failure.
These are charges some have made against U.S. Army recruiting
battalions, specifically in Texas where the unit has recently lost
four recruiters to suicide. Fifteen of the Army's 8,400 recruiters
have committed suicide in the past five years. During that period,
more than 540 of the Army's half-million active-duty soldiers killed
It's enough of a discrepancy that after the recent suicide of Sgt. 1s
Class Patrick Henderson, the Army started an official investigation
into its recruiting practices. But some want more.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican on the Armed Services Committee,
said he will press for Senate hearings.
Henderson's widow, herself an Iraq War veteran and a former
recruiter, sought the help of the Texas senator because she blames
the psychological scars of war coupled with the pressure-cooker
atmosphere of the Texas recruiting battalion for her husband's suicide.
"Over there in Iraq, you're doing this high-intensive job you are
recognized for. Then, you come back here, and one month you're a
hero, one month you're a loser because you didn't put anyone in,"
Staff Sgt. Amanda Henderson told The Associated Press.
Some have questioned whether it is responsible to require returning
combat veterans to serve as recruiters. Many don't volunteer for the
duty, but receive orders to report for duty at recruiting stations.
Keeping an all-volunteer Army staffed as the nation wages two wars
overseas must be difficult, especially considering that public
opinion has shifted in the past few years. Following the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks, enlistments were at all-time highs nationwide. But
seven years later, volunteers are waning.
It is a very serious commitment for a young man or woman to choose to
enlist in the armed services as not every person is meant to serve
this nation as a soldier.
For those who choose to do so, there is great honor in serving the
United States at home or abroad in uniform.
But setting up an environment for recruiters where a certain number
of contacts, cold calls, home visits and number of enlistments
determines the success or failure as a soldier is an unhealthy
environment. Add to that marital and family stress because of long
workdays and mental stress for recruiters who are returning combat
veterans. While there are counseling and support services available
for soldiers in need, there are many recruiters who are stationed in
places hundreds of miles away from the nearest military base,
isolating them from others with shared experiences and a deeper
understanding of the demands of their jobs.
A closer look at the practices and regulations governing military
recruiting, one that could only come from the scrutiny of Senate
hearings, may be warranted.
We owe it to those who are serving in one of the most difficult
capacities in the armed services the responsibility of making sure
this nation has an army to serve in times of war and peace.