For the first time in over two decades, the United States Marine Corps missed its monthly recruitment goal. A January Department of Defense finding pointed to the war in Iraq as the primary cause for the drop. The continually declining number of military recruits will eventually endanger the armed services’ status as an all-volunteer force, making the re-instatement of the draft an all-too-viable scenario. To rectify past wrongs and increase its recruitment levels, the Pentagon should uphold its commitments with current and past service personnel with honorable and fair policies, especially when it comes to hiring, firing and promotional decisions.
Although the Marines missed its recruitment goal by only 3 percent, the fact that the Marines previously enjoyed the luxury of turning away willing recruits — in addition to the failure of the Army National Guard, the Army and the Army Reserve failed to meet their recruitment quotas — demonstrates the problem is pervasive and systemic. The Pentagon insists that the drop in recruitment for the Marines is linked solely to the widely publicized risks in Iraq. But though the risks in Iraq have understandably deterred many from joining the armed services, it would be a mistake to isolate the war as the sole source of the military’s recruitment shortfalls.
Despite the ominous prospects of fighting in Iraq, the military’s failing credibility with current service personnel and military veterans is another primary reason contributing to the decline in recruitment. The open-ended occupation of Iraq has over-stretched the resources of the military, compelling the Pentagon to renege on its contracts with service personnel by issuing stop-loss orders and committing soldiers previously slated for reserve service to battle. Instead of serving six-month terms in Iraq, personnel have been required to extend their service to a year, and in some cases, indefinitely. The Pentagon’s stop-loss policy has been referred to as “the backdoor draft” and has severely cut overall recruitment levels for the armed services.
Additionally, the Pentagon has revoked a number of services that it provides to current and past service personnel — further lowering the incentives for individuals to join the armed services. Faced with funding an occupation that initially sent troops to fight without proper armor, the Pentagon has subsequently docked pay for active service personnel (It later reversed itself,) cut health care benefits for them, their families and veterans and lowered funding for their children’s education. In addition to the fact that these cuts prove the government has been morally reprehensible in not upholding its obligations to past and current service personnel, it provides little incentive for individuals to join the armed services if they are confident the government will only renege on its promise to them.
Efforts to increase recruitment should not include cheap and impractical recruitment plans. Rather, the Marines should focus on regaining the trust of current and prospective servicemen and women. Through simply remaining true to the all volunteer precepts of the U.S. Armed Forces, institutional recruitment, retention and benefit policies will go a long way. If falling recruitment and enrollment numbers continue as a trend, the Pentagon may have to resort to unspeakable measures to fulfill the numbers that they need. The Marine Corps, an institution that for centuries has fought valiantly under the principles of its most sacred dictum — “Semper Fi,” Latin for “Always Faithful” — is confronted with yet another perilous battle. This time it is for integrity.