If there's one thing every military veteran has in common, it's that we all went through a recruiter — but experiences may vary. For example, some recruits had either high-value skills or were willing to take any job the recruiter might offer and, thus, were pursued by military recruiters. Others had to seek one out. Either way, our feelings about our recruiters rise and fall as our career progresses.
At first, many feel like they were bamboozled by their recruiter. As if somehow, they lied to us.
Maybe they made us promises they had no intention of keeping. Maybe they said we were going to get a bonus when we didn't, or maybe the bonus wasn't as big as promised. Or maybe the recruiter told us we could go in "Open General" and then choose to be an Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst when we're in basic training and we wouldn't have to take whatever the Air Force chose to give us.
Which is how I became a combat cameraman. Don't tell me recruiters don't lie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ave I. Pele)
The fact of the matter is that every U.S. enlisted troop has a recruiter story. The recruiting process is the one thing every branch of the military has in common. From MEPS to the naked duck walk to going on a trip with a group of strangers whose only common bond is a manila envelope full of personal information, this is the area of the military that transcends branch of service — one that all Coast Guardsmen, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines experience equally.
But what we don't realize until we're grown up a little and have a little rank on our sleeves or collars is that recruiting is a really, really tough job.
1. Everyone thinks recruiters are g*ddamn liars.
I know I kinda covered this one, but it's a big deal. Not because the recruits think recruiters are lying — who cares what they think? They can go home if they want to. It's that people already in the military think recruiters are liars. That's the whole thing about recruiters — the one tired joke that never stops playing.
People think you're out there luring high school kids into a Marine Corps-painted Astro van with promises of chest candy. Or that you somehow prey on minorities and low-income communities. Or that you're filling the ranks with sub-par people just to make an invisible quota of some kind. The Army doesn't exactly sell itself, so recruiters must be tricking these kids somehow.
"Yeah, we all totally love this uniform."
2. Recruiters are competing with a great job market.
The unemployment rate of Americans between 16 and 24 — prime military recruiter targets — fell to a 50-year low in 2018. For recruiters, people who have to bring in a certain number of recruits to keep the Army, Air Force, and Navy Departments going for the foreseeable future — this is a terrible thing.
For some, joining the military is something that provides access to opportunity. If someone from Podunk, Conn. (which is a real place, by the way) has the choice of working at the Ice Cream Factory (which does not exist in Podunk, it's just an example) or joining the Marines during a 17-year-long war, which do you think they might be more inclined toward? As a Marine Recruiter, you have to convince him that a lifetime of mud, dirt, paperwork, and potentially killing ISIS fighters is a better choice than riding dirtbikes at the bonfire Saturday night.
Good luck with that.
"What's the matter, you already have the haircut."
3. Most wannabe recruits aren't cut out for service.
The Pentagon believes that 71 percent of American youth aren't able to enlist for a number of reasons. They may be overweight, they may have drug use issues or ear gauges, or maybe they can't score well on the ASVAB. No matter what the issue is, of the 29 percent left, the Army estimates only seven percent of the remainder is even interested in serving.
So, your job is basically to find those needles in all that haystack.
Or, in some cases, a unicorn.
4. Training and living as a recruiter is actually incredibly difficult.
Recruiters train to go into a local community and pull out the most potentially exceptional recruits from neighborhoods that might hate you. At the same time, the recruiter has to typify everything that makes the perfect U.S. troop, from physical fitness and on down the line. If you even pass the screening process, every branch of the military has an in-depth intense training school that involves professional development and very detailed instructional lessons on all the ins and outs of your chosen branch of service.
Remember, recruiters are supposed to be demi-gods with all the answers, so it makes sense that to be an example for youth to follow, potential recruiters have to train incredibly hard at it.
"Pew pew! ... And that's how you do Army. Just sign your name in crayon."
5. You're (mostly) alone out there.
More than that, a recruiter lives far from a military community, where things might be way more expensive than in your standard military base area. There may be no other military personnel to lean on except for the other recruiters in your area and since none of you are exactly keeping banker's hours, a potluck jamboree might be hard to schedule.
So you only need to be the perfect picture of physical, mental, and financial health with unlimited energy and money to stay up all night to recognize talent and have all the answers required to get them to give you the first years of their adult life while their parents (who might really, really hate you) look on. No sweat, right?
You dirty liar.
In case you didn't believe me when I said people will hate you. Because they will.
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