Anger as soldiers target students

10th December 2004 at 00:00
The war in Iraq has prompted military personnel to give students the hard-sell. Stephen Phillips reports.

United States

As casualties mount in Iraq, military recruiters in USschools are under scrutiny for giving students the hard sell, using psychological techniques to sway young minds and targeting the poor with financial incentives.

Schools are a vital recruitment ground for the armed forces, which must sign up nearly 200,000 new soldiers this year and next to meet Pentagon targets.

Douglas Smith, public affairs officer for the US army recruiting command in Kentucky, confirmed a report published last month in the Boston Globe that a manual is in use in schools which tells staff how to gain students'

confidence and cultivate their interest.

In the manual, recruiters are advised to look into students' backgrounds for useful information and then "mysteriously" work these into conversations. The manual also advises that if a student is wavering, the recruiter should "challenge his ego by suggesting that basic training may be too difficult for him".

Mr Smith denied that mind games were being used to manipulate students. He said that the recruiters prized education and were dealing with "well-educated, informed people making considered decisions" about joining the forces.

Military recruiters are a long-standing presence in US schools. But the No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to pass pupils' names and contact details to military officials. The lists are then used to cold-call, mail-shot and doorstep students at home, although parents have the option to opt out.

Military recruitment expert Charles Moskos, professor of sociology at Northwestern university, Chicago, said military officials are likely to step up their efforts amid the Iraqi conflict, although the rising death toll in the Middle East would hamper the recruitment drive. Mr Smith agreed that "many people may be more hesitant because of the war" and said "more hand-holding" would be needed.

Recruiters visit TC Williams high school in Alexandria, Virginia, twice a month, and set up a table in the cafeteria lobby.

Williams' headteacher John Porter said he was in favour of students being informed about the option to join the armed forces and that he had not seen any questionable tactics being used by recruiters.

But questions have been raised about what some have seen as recruiters'

heightened focus on deprived schools.

Professor Moskos said military recruiters are targeting schools in "inner cities and small-town America". He added: "They don't go to suburban schools where 90 per cent of the students go on to college."

Mr Smith said: "We are like any sales organisation in that we go to areas we think are productive."

The US defence department has an annual budget of $2.6bn (pound;1.4bn) for military recruitment and offers $20,000 sign-on bonuses and up to $70,000 towards college costs.

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