By MICHAEL T. LUONGO
Published: March 29, 2010
The words "military business travel" may conjure up images of
soldiers strapped in airplane cargo holds. But when recruiters for
the four branches of the United States military go on business trips,
it's often hard to tell them apart from civilian travelers.
Traveling in typical military style, "makes sense when moving a large
unit from point A to point B," said Capt. Adrian Rankine-Galloway,
the public affairs officer for the First Marine Corps district office
in Garden City, N.Y., which handles recruitment for the northeastern
United States. But it does not make sense, he added, "when moving one
person to do recruiting." The goal is "productive use of one's time."
Captain Rankine-Galloway said he used tools that integrate military
and civilian travel, like the Defense Transportation System, to
schedule flights on commercial airlines, along with car rentals,
hotels and other services. "It's like using Orbitz or Expedia," he said.
With the United States fighting two wars, there is a need to recruit
young, skilled people into the military. Each branch has its own
recruiting staff, varying in size and coverage. As of March, the Army
had the largest team, about 8,298 recruiters; the Navy, 5,034; the
Marine Corps, about 3,000; and the Air Force, 1,308.
These numbers include enlisted, officer and specialized recruiters
whose functions vary across the branches. Enlisted recruiters are the
majority and tend to travel the least, often working by automobile.
Recruiters in certain geographic regions may travel more, depending
on population density and team size. Rank also plays a part, with
officer and specialized recruiters traveling the most, along with
commanders overseeing regional recruitment.
Col. Rickey Grabowski, 52, former commanding officer of the district
office in Garden City, now the chief of staff for the Marine Corps
Eastern recruiting region in Parris Island, S.C., said that because
the Northeast was relatively small but densely populated, he mostly
drove, and "was on the road 21 to 22 days out of the month."
Tech. Sgt. Corinne Eckels, 29, an Air Force recruiter based in Grand
Junction, Colo., on the other hand, has a territory of nearly 17,000
square miles in the southern half of a vast state. Her location has
particular benefits, she said, as she drives "through canyons and up
to the mountains" where deer and elk "are always on the side of the
road, just watching the traffic."
Colonel Grabowski said that while driving could be time-consuming,
flying presents other obstacles, with the medals and other
"accoutrements that you have on." Once in uniform, he said, "I can't
take anything off, and the T.S.A. guys know that. They take us over
and they pat search us, they wand us, wherever they feel there's
metal they touch it."
On board, a uniform creates another experience entirely. "If they
have an empty first-class seat, they'll demand you come up front,"
Colonel Grabowski said. "A lot of us laugh about that." A recent
policy change allows recruiters to keep airline mileage accrued on
military business for personal use, Captain Rankine-Galloway said.
Col. Wesley Preston Miller, 42, public relations director for the Air
Force's National Media Outreach office in New York, said that when in
uniform, "from the baggage department, you get more leeway" on weight
restrictions, though that has recently tightened, and recruiters must
show military travel documents. On the ground, he said, hotels
sometimes upgrade recruiters from their reserved rooms. "Obviously a
person never asks, but if they do it, you feel like a king."
More important than upgrades to Colonel Grabowski is an inexpensive
hotel room. "We're stewards of the taxpayer's dollars," he said. He
uses government rates or tries, he said, to "find a mom-and-pop
place, $50 a night for a room," but said fewer exist now. Some
hotels, like the Ritz-Carlton, also have government rates, he said,
but "we don't stay there, because someone would say, 'Hey why is that
guy here? Is that my tax dollars paying for that?' "
Colonel Grabowski said recruiters also tried to save money in other
ways, locating conferences in less expensive cities, for example.
"They get a lot of military conferences down in New Orleans because
it's cheap," he said. "The government pays me $64 a day for food if
I'm in Manhattan on orders, but in New Orleans, it's like $48 or
$44." He added the military tries to "get the most bang for their buck."
Of course, recruiters' travel can differ in some other respects from
civilian travel. Since high school students are the recruiters' main
audience, the recruiters' schedules tend to follow the academic year,
with a summer peak at large gatherings of young people.
Lt. Col. David Clore of the Army Accessions Support Brigade in Fort
Knox, Ky., said recruiters visited schools and fairs with "mobile
exhibits, completely branded with Army stuff." Across different
branches, exhibits include racing cars, military vehicles, flight
simulators, rock climbing walls and other large items with high
visual impact, often transported on 18-wheel trucks.
This presents a logistical challenge, particularly in urban areas.
Sgt. First Class Derek T. Price, 50, also of the Army Accessions
Support Brigade, said he took care "mapping out roads," and could
have trouble finding "hotels and locations that can accommodate" his
truck. He sometimes stays "several miles" from his recruiting destination.
While nearly all the recruiters interviewed said they were generally
well accepted in their travels, protesters of American military
policy sometimes single them out. Sergeant Price said that at one
event, demonstrators were next to his recruiting displays. In
addition, Captain Rankine-Galloway said he constantly reassessed if a
particular trip or destination was "worth a recruiter's time" or the
expense based on past recruitment numbers.
Some recruiters said well-wishers can be another obstacle, albeit a
welcome one. Sgt. First Class William Wagoner, 34, who works with
Sergeant Price, said that when he is in uniform, "I can't get through
an airport without shaking 12 to 15 hands." Sometimes, he added, "I
am almost late for my flight."