January 27, 2009

Still Stuk in Irak

Hatched by Sachi

Good news! More Americans are joining the military. Last fiscal year, all components of the military -- active duty, reserve, and National Guard -- met or exceeded the recruitment goals, for the first time since 2004. "And the trend seems to be accelerating," quoth the New York Times.

The NYT has its own idea why; the Gray Lady believes recruiting success is due to a recent sluggish economy... in other words, more people getting "stuk in Irak." As we all know, only uneducated slobs would join the military; so when times are tough, and all those morons cannot compete in the regular labor market, recruiting skyrockets. Simple!

Needless to say, I'm quite skeptical of that analysis. From previous research for earlier blogposts here, I know that our active-duty military has met or exceeded its recruiting goals except one branch in one year -- the Army in 2005. (Note that the links in first table apply to all tables; where the data simply says a service "met" its goals, we entered a score of 100% -- though it could of course be higher):

Military recruiting FY 2003-2008 - active duty
Fiscal year Army Marine Corps Air Force Navy
2003 101% 100% 100% 100%
2004 101% 100% 101% 101%
2005 92% 100% 102% 100%
2006 101% 100% 100% 100%
2007 101% 100% 100% 101%
2008 101% 100% 100% 100%

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, our active-duty military has consistently met or exceeded its goals, with only that one blip in 2005. Even in the militarily tough years like 2004 through 2006, when things were not looking good in Iraq, our active duty units only once failed to recruit enough new soldiers. (And bear in mind, the recruiting goals themselves were increased under President Bush; the military services met them anyway.)

But here is the most astonishing point, given the breathless tone of the Times article: If you look at the chart for active duty units, the rate of recruits for fiscal year 2008 is essentially no different from previous five years.

It is true that sometimes our reserve units (and often our National Guard units) had difficulty meeting their goals:

Military recruiting FY 2003-2008 - reserves
Fiscal year Army Marine Corps Air Force Navy
2003 104% (no data) (no data) (no data)
2004 100% 100% 100% 100%
2005 84% 102% 113% 88%
2006 95% 100% 106% 87%
2007 101% 110% 104% 100%
2008 106% 100% 105% 100%

Military recruiting FY 2003-2008 - National Guard
Fiscal year Army Marine Corps Air Force Navy
2003 (no data) N/A (no data) N/A
2004 (unmet) N/A (unmet) N/A
2005 80% N/A 86% N/A
2006 99% N/A 97% N/A
2007 95% N/A 93% N/A
2008 103% N/A 126% N/A

This is easily understood: During wartime, it's highly likely such units would be called up; this creates problems in life-planning -- you know you'll probably end up going, but you don't know exactly when. Therefore, potential recruits might as well enlist as active duty: The benefits are much better, and life is more predictable.

Contrariwise, as the Iraq war wound down, and it became less likely that reserve or Guard units would be nationalized and sent abroad, the easier career planning would attract more people to such units. The sluggish economy may be a minor factor, but the main reason for the rise in reserve and Guard recruiting is simply that we achieved victory in Iraq.

Too, we cannot neglect patriotism as a motivator: While we're actively fighting a savage and bitter enemy who has vowed to kill us all, American patriots who feel their honor and resolve questioned want to join active-duty service to show the militant Islamists how an American fights, wins, and if necessary, dies. (I haven't looked into it, but I suspect that after V-E Day and V-J Day signalled that we had won World War II, recruitment into the active-duty military dropped significantly in favor of a rise in National Guard and reserve forces.)

But what about all those stories in the elite media, month after month, year after year, crowing that the Army had missed its recruiting goals? There were hundreds of such stories... were they all lies?

Not exactly, but they were highly misleading: If you paid attention, you'd have noticed the reports almost always came out in the months of June, July and August. During the summer, recruiting always drops; kids coming out of high school or university typically want to take their last summer off instead of rushing to join the service. Therefore, recruiting often falls short in summer months.

But those numbers were invariably made up during the month of September, the last month in the fiscal year; and the Army (and all other branches of the active-duty military) always ended up meeting their goals for the year anyway. This same pattern happened every year, surprise surprise.

Contrary to the agenda of the New York Times, military service has never been unpopular in the United States, and particularly not during wartime (at least since Vietnam). The Army and Marines Corps -- where recruits are virtually guaranteed to see action during wartime -- often exceeded their goals and never (except once for the Army) had problems attracting young, patriotic men and women. Even more telling, the retention rate of all branches of the military are also very high, typically exceeding goals, and have been so throughout the Iraq-war period... and recall that by definition, service members who are "retained" (reenlist) past their current enlistment include a great many who have actual combat experience. Evidently these non-coms and commissioned officers don't think of themselves as simply "stuk in Irak."

In other words, there is no new trend. Nevertheless, the Times insists upon explaining “the trend”:

As the number of jobs across the nation dwindles, more Americans are joining the military, lured by a steady paycheck, benefits and training.... ["Lured?"]

The Army has managed to meet its goals each year since 2006, but not without difficulty.

As casualties in Iraq mounted, the Army began luring new soldiers by increasing signing bonuses for recruits and accepting a greater number of people who had medical and criminal histories, who scored low on entrance exams and who failed to graduate from high school.

Actually, the Navy actually tightened its test requirements during this period. But there are several problems with this non-explanation for non-failure that didn't happen:

  1. I immediately object to portraying our military as an evil organization which "lures" young, lazy bums who hate going to school with the promise of high pay (heh) and scholarships, turns them into donkeys, and sends them to the salt mines.

For one obvious incongruity, why would lazy bums be attracted by college scholarships?

  1. The Times forgets to mention that this entire time, we have been growing our military by tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

These recruiting goals are actually moving targets, increasing each year. Yet all active-duty branches and nearly all reserve branches have still met them anyway, with only that one exception one time.

  1. During wartime, actual combat, especially the Special-Force dominated combat of contemporary warfare, is inherently more dangerous than any job in the civilian world; and it takes money to recruit people into dangerous jobs.

...Though not as much money as recruiting people into dangerous civilian jobs, such as policing, fire-fighting, or underwater welding, because of the benefits of American patriotism, which is higher than any other country in the West except perhaps Israel.

But the fact some recruits are attracted by higher benefits doesn't diminish or taint the job of recruiting. Except for missionaries, we all expect to get paid well, even if we love our jobs; why expect our warriors to be any different than any other American? Why shouldn't they be compensated generously for the vital work they do defending the country?

The point is, there are many reasons why young people join the service, and all are equally valid and equally honorable. But the Times does not even consider the possibility that our nation's youth is excited about winning the Iraq war and wants to continue defending the country from Islamic terrorists and other enemies. Love of freedom and a sense of patriotism does not even enter into the minds of drive-by journalists, still gloating that they won in November.

Did they ask the recruits why they want to join the military? The Times gives us a handful of self-serving anecdotes:

Sean D. O’Neil, a 22-year-old who stood shivering outside an Army recruitment office in St. Louis, said he was forgoing plans to become a guitar maker for now, realizing that instruments are seen as a luxury during a recession. Mr. O’Neil, a Texas native, ventured to St. Louis for an apprenticeship but found himself $30,000 in debt. Joining the Army, his Plan B, was a purely financial decision. With President-elect Barack Obama in office, he expects the troop levels in Iraq to be lowered.

Going to war, although likely, feels safer to him. “I’m doing this for eight years,” he said. “Hopefully, when I get out, I’ll have all my fingers and toes and arms, and the economy will have turned around, and I’ll have a little egg to start up my own guitar line.”

Ryen Trexler, 21, saw the recession barreling toward him as he was fixing truck tires for Allegheny Trucks in Altoona, Pa. By last summer, his workload had dropped.... As the new guy on the job, he knew he would be the first to go....

Just a few months ago, Guy Derenoncourt was working as an equity trader at a boutique investment firm in New York. Then the equity market fell apart and he quit....

“I really had no intention to join if it weren’t for the financial turmoil, because I was doing quite well,” Mr. Derenoncourt, 25, said, adding that a sense of patriotism made it an easier choice.

This is a classic elite media debate trick; the quotes were clearly selected to reaffirm the paper's agenda, as shown by the complete lack of numerical context. How many soldiers primarily joined because of "eight years of the worst economy since the Great Depression" (as so many Democrats in Congress have put it) -- and how many joined up because of the traditional reasons Americans have always enlisted: patriotism, learning leadership skills, wanting some direction in their lives, learning discipline, getting mentally and physically stronger, and so forth?

These paltry few tendentious personal stories don’t tell the whole story. The Times could have surveyed a representative sample of recruits, asking them to list five reasons why they want to join and score them one to five. But that wouldn't serve the primary purpose of showing that our military recruits are still "stuk in Irak" because of the catastrophic economic policies of the incompetent Bush regime, would it?

Hatched by Sachi on this day, January 27, 2009, at the time of 3:19 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Stan from IT

My youngest son enlisted in the US Army last January. He told his mother and me that he wanted to do something with his life and for his country. He had a good job and was taking some classes at the local junior college. I’m retired USAF and my oldest did time in the USAF and my second son is still in the USAF (Reserves). I proud of all of my sons they all volunteered as I did to better themselves and to give back to their country. One of my wife’s Aunt asked why I would let my son join? I told her that if I believed in my country and for what she stands, who am I to say yes, your son/daughter can defend our way but not mine? All of my sons could have gone to college (which they did take some classes) and stayed at home (which they did) but they chose to pursue a higher calling.

The above hissed in response by: Stan from IT [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2009 6:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: Ken Hahn

The lapdog media and especially its flagship, the NYT, will reflect the view of the most radical wing of the Democratic Party as reality. They could appoint Howard dean as editor and no one would notice any difference. I'm only surprised that they didn't attribute any uptick to a new spirit of patriotism as personified by Obama.

The above hissed in response by: Ken Hahn [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2009 10:30 PM

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