Can’t Find a Job? WXMI says to Join the Military

WXMI Promotes Military Recruiting

Every couple of months, one of the local media outlets report on the state of military recruiting in West Michigan. All the local outlets have done it–WZZM 13, WOOD TV 8, and The Grand Rapids Press—now WXMI is the latest with a story titled “Military Recruiting Numbers On The Rise

Like most stories on this topic, WXMI’s story follows a familiar script. They set the context by talking about the economy in Michigan:

“Michigan continues to have the worst unemployment rate in the country at 12%. Jobs and industries are disappearing and a lot of people are struggling to find new work. But for one field, there’s been a bit of a boom; military service.”

They talk to a recruiter who says that the military offers a good option in the current economy:

“Gunnery Sgt. Tony Hernandez said ‘At one point it was a little challenging for us to recruit in that aspect but with the economy these days people are realizing you know that the military is a better option.'”

The story then talks to a recent recruit who talks up the military in light of the current economy and the money that the military will provide for school.

As is always the case in these stories, WXMI never bothers to investigate these claims. Is the military really a good option for job training? The jobless rate for veterans is at 11.2% and numerous studies have shown that military skills don’t transfer well into the civilian job market. Similarly, many veterans don’t get the promised money for school.

Similarly, the story doesn’t talk to anyone with a dissenting perspective. For example, WXMI could have talked to activists from a group working to counter military recruiters in area schools or a veteran who had failed to get their promised benefits.

Jobless Rate Up for Veterans; Military Skills don’t Translate to Civilian Jobs

The Jobless Rate for Veterans is Rising

The jobless rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is rising. According to an article in USA Today, the jobless rate has grown to 11.2% for veterans of those wars. It has risen 4% over the last year and is significantly higher than the 8.8% rate for non-veterans in the same age group.

The article says that veterans often have trouble translating their skills to the civilian job market:

“Young veterans, Walker says, often have trouble ‘translating their military skills into skills on their resume that employers recognized.’

Robert Pearson, 23, of Minneapolis, is a former paratrooper who served in Afghanistan. He says it’s hard to find work as a human resources manager in order to use the skills he learned managing soldiers as a combat team leader.”

As it turns out, this is something that “counter-recruiters” have been pointing out for years. Those working to dissuade youth from joining the military have long argued that military skills–and recruiters promises of job training–rarely pan out.

Over the years, various studies have found that veterans earn less than non-veterans and that few veterans make use of their military skills in civilian jobs.

Analysis: Military Continues to Rely on People of Color and Low and Middle Income to Fill Ranks

Disproportionate Number of African-American Recruits in Kent County in 2008

The National Priorities Project has released its annual analysis of Army recruiting, finding that in 2008 new recruits tend to be people of color, come from low to middle income families, and are growing increasingly younger.

In summarizing the findings, Jo Comerford of the National Priorities Project states, “Once again we are compelled to note the Army’s disproportionate reliance on young people, people of color and individuals from low- and middle-income families to fill its ranks.”

Summary of Recruiting Trends for 2008

The data–obtained by combining Census material with information obtained via the Freedom of Information Act–shows several striking things:

  • LOW- AND MIDDLE INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS CONTINUE TO BE OVERREPRESENTED. Active-duty Army recruits disproportionately come from low-to middle income neighborhoods. Neighborhood incomes in the lowest 10% of population were underrepresented, as were those in the top 20%.
  • THE AGE OF NEW RECRUITS FELL. Fifty-two percent of new recruits in 2008 were below the age of 21. This is up from 48.5% in 2007.
  • THE PERCENTAGE OF RECRUITS WHO ARE BLACK HAS RISEN SINCE 2005, INCREASING FROM 15% IN 2005 TO 16.6% IN 2008. The sharpest increase was between 2007 and 2008.

The National Priorities Project also expresses concern that with lower test scores, recruits of color will have limited opportunities in the Army.

Military Recruiting in West Michigan

One of the strengths of the National Priorities Project’s research is that it allows folks to look at the numbers in their own communities (see posts from 2006 and 2007).

Looking at the numbers for Kent County, we found that there were 146 active-duty Army recruits. This breaks down into the following categories:

  • 83.56% were White
  • 14.38% were Black

    2.05% were Asian or Pacific Islander

    1.37% were Hispanic

According to Census statistics for Kent County, African-Americans were over-represented in the Army when compared to their percentage of the total population.

Military’s Hiring; Newspapers Giving Them Free Ad Space

An Article Promoting Military Service Was Published By WZZM 13

Yesterday when I was browsing the daily headlines on WZZM13.Com (perhaps my first mistake), I came across a rather frustrating article that was reprinted from the Detroit Free Press.

The article, titled “Who’s hiring? The military” is the latest of many articles that have appeared over the years promoting military service as an option in tough economic times. As is typically the case in these kind of articles, the newspaper only spoke with service members and recent enlistees, both of whom had favorable opinions of the military.

No Dissenting Perspective

Seeing an article with a headline that talked about the current economic situation and the military, the first thing that popped into my head was the idea of a “poverty draft”. This is the idea that the military is seen primarily as a career option for the poor and that the military actively seeks out recruits from economically disadvantaged communities. There’s a wealth of information available about this, but the Detroit Free Press never discussed it.

This is likely due to the fact that the article does not cite anyone who is involved in promoting alternatives to military service to youth. This was particularly frustrating because the Detroit-based group FAME has been actively promoting alternatives to military service. The organization points out that many of the promises made by the military are broken. It also points out that significant hurdles exist in getting the education and job training benefits touted by the military.

The Michigan television station WWMT also ran a similar story that functioned as an ad for the military without bothering to offer a dissenting perspective.

An All Too Common Approach

Unfortunately, this is a common approach by the media when discussing military service. has reported on this numerous times in the past. In the past five years, we have seen the local media promote military recruiting repeatedly, but never include a dissenting perspective or even seek to independently verify the claims made by military recruiters.

Military Recruiting Increasing in Tough Economy

Military Recruiting On The Rise As Economy Crumbles

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that as the economy worsens, enlistment in the military is on the rise. The Army surpassed its recruitment targets for the months of October, November and December, which coincides with the first quarter of the fiscal year. The article also cited that there are expanded education benefits included in the new G.I. Bill, which is an attraction for many, especially new high school graduates. However, the Times failed to mention that the proposed discretionary budget for the 2009 fiscal year includes 58% for national defense (down 1% from the 59% of 2008), with a pathetic 7% for education, training, employment and social services.

The National Priorities Project breaks down exactly where spending on national defense goes: 89% to the military, 7% to homeland security, and 4% to preventative measures. Military spending has nearly doubled since 2001 – from about $350 billion to nearly $600 billion. Of total world military spending, the U.S. makes up 48%. Israel is the third largest arms importer (topped only by China and India, the two countries with the largest populations).

The amounts of money spent on war and military would be ludicrous at any time, but the fact that the nation is in a recession with alarmingly high unemployment rates, speaks volumes. The U.S. government continues to clearly prioritize war and oppression over education and social services.

Early Look at 2008 Army Recruiting Numbers for Michigan


The National Priorities Project has released the first half of its annual review of Army recruiting. The initial review looks at data by state, county, and zip code. It finds that the Army has once again missed its quality benchmarks:

“The Iraq War began to have an impact on recruiting in 2005 when the Army missed its goal for the number of recruits. Despite increases in spending on recruitment and advertising such as new arcade games designed to draw more youth into the Army, the Army has failed to meet its benchmark for the level of educational attainment of recruits for the fourth year in a row. The percentage of recruits with high school diplomas reported in early October by the Department of Defense was considerably greater than what the data actually show. This difference is due to the Army’s reporting on the number of “contracts” rather than the number of “accessions” with high school diplomas. Contracts are recorded at the time of sign-up, whereas accessions are those who actually enlist. Each year there are losses of individuals who, despite signing the contract, do not end up enlisting.”

As in previous years (2006, 2008), the data provides information specific to Michigan. The National Priorities Project reports that Michigan ranked 29th for Army Recruits Per Thousand Youth at 1.52 (down from 1.79 in 2006). However, Michigan did have the county with the second highest recruitment rate in the country–Luce County. Other counties including Arenec, Kalkaska, and Clare also ranked in the top 100.

Here in West Michigan, Kent County had 146 Active-Duty Army recruits and 25 Reserve Army recruits. will have a more complete look at the numbers in the coming weeks when the National Priorities Project released information based on race and income.

Blackhawk Helicopter Wows Students, Media

yesterday the Grand Rapids Press produced a fawning article on a publicity stunt featuring an Army National Guard helicopter landing at a West Michigan high school. Such stunts are often used to gain recruits and positive press.


Yesterday, The Grand Rapids Press published an online article (“Students, veterans moved by school ceremony, visit from Blackhawk helicopter“) that is a classic example of how the major media often aids the military in finding recruits.

The article by Ron Cammel details a Veterans Day ceremony at Kent City High School. The ceremony featured the usual themes of sacrifice and duty to one’s country, as well as an unusual surprise–a Michigan Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter.

However, such appearances are not rare. The military regular engages in activities such as this–or driving souped up Hummers into inner city school districts–in the hopes that they will both attract recruits and get free media coverage. In 2007, Dianne Farsetta at the public relations watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy wrote about how the military collaborates with public relations firms and major media gain new recruits.

It appears the Press may be the military’s most recent collaborator. The article says nothing critical about military service and features a quote that all to clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of such stunts:

“‘Because of today, I want to join the Army,’ said Jesse, whose uncle is serving in Iraq. ‘I want my freedoms, and I want to be what my uncle is.'”

The local broadcast media also got in on the story, with WZZM 13 running a similar story featuring dramatic footage of the helicopter landing.

Report: US Military Recruiting Violates International Protocols


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a new report charging that the United States is failing to uphold its commitments to safeguard the rights of youth under 18 from military recruitment and to guarantee basic protections to foreign former child soldiers. The allegations are detailed in a report titled “Soldiers of Misfortune” released yesterday by the ACLU that has been submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The report details a number of recruiter abuses and objectionable recruiting tactics. The report’s executive summary explains how these tactics violate international protocols:

“The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (Optional Protocol) is meant to safeguard the rights of children under 18 from military recruitment and deployment to war, and to guarantee basic protections to former child soldiers, whether they are seeking refugee protection in the United States or are in U.S. custody for alleged crimes.

The U.S. Senate ratified the Optional Protocol in December 2002. By signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.S. bound itself to comply with the obligations contained in the Optional Protocol. The Optional Protocol provides that the absolute minimum age for voluntary recruitment is 16 years old. It also instructs countries to set their own minimum age by submitting a binding declaration, and the United States entered a binding declaration raising this minimum age to 17. Therefore, recruitment of youth ages 16 and under is categorically disallowed in the United States.

The Optional Protocol imposes special minimum safeguards for the recruitment of 17-year-olds, requiring that military recruitment activities directed at 17-year-olds be carried out with the consent of the child’s parents or guardians. The Optional Protocol also requires that recruitment must be genuinely voluntary, and that the military must fully inform youth of the duties involved in military service. In addition, the Optional Protocol requires underage recruits to provide reliable proof of age prior to acceptance into military service. The Optional Protocol also requires the United States to take all feasible measures to ensure that 17-year-old members of the armed forces do not take part in hostilities.

Public schools serve as prime recruiting grounds for the military, and the U.S. military’s generally accepted procedures for recruitment of high school students plainly violate the Optional Protocol. In its initial report to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the U.N. body charged with monitoring compliance with the Optional Protocol, the U.S. Government claims that “[n]o one under age 17 is eligible for recruitment.” In practice, however, the U.S. armed services regularly target children under 17 for military recruitment, heavily recruiting on high school campuses, in school lunchrooms, and in classes. Department of Defense instructions to recruiters, the U.S. military’s collection of information on hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds, and military training corps for children as young as 11 reveal that students are targeted for recruitment as early as possible. By exposing children younger than 17 to military recruitment, the United States military violates the terms of the Optional Protocol.

U.S. military recruitment of youth under 18 also frequently violates the minimum safeguards required by the Optional Protocol. Wartime enlistment quotas have placed increased pressure on military recruiters to fill the ranks of the armed services. The added strain of fulfilling enlistment quotas necessary to carry out sustained U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without reinstituting a draft has contributed to a rise in aggressive recruitment efforts and allegations of misconduct and abuse by recruiters, in contravention of the Optional Protocol. In the absence of a policy on implementation of the Optional Protocol, misconduct by recruiters often goes unchecked.

Heavy-handed recruitment tactics and misconduct by recruiters often render recruitment involuntary, and despite government and media reports documenting misconduct in recruitment of prospective enlistees under the age of 18, protections for students against abusive recruitment tactics remain weak. Recruiters threaten serious penalties to 17-year-old youth who have signed Deferred Entry contracts and subsequently changed their minds about enlisting, in some cases forcing these youth to report to basic training against their will. A provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act forces schools to open their doors to recruiters and provide the military with students’ information to undergo recruitment without parents’ informed consent. The U.S. military’s practice of targeting low-income youth and students of color for recruitment, in combination with exaggerated promises of financial rewards for enlistment, undermines the voluntariness of their enlistment.”

The ACLU recommends a number of actions be undertaken to limit recruiting practices including reforming the No Child Left Behind Act military recruitment provisions, ending Pentagon data mining projects targeting high school students, and making opt-out information more easily accessible. Additionally, the report calls for improved processes and policies aimed at curbing recruiter abuses.

A Military Recruiter Articulates a Justification for the Iraq War

In covering protests against military recruiting over the past few years in West Michigan, Media Mouse has repeatedly documented military recruiters responding to protests with a variety of insults and even physical violence. In February of 2007, a recruiter told protestors to “go back across the border” to “take a bath.” In May of 2006, recruiters called protestors “douche bags” and used homophobic insults. While these two examples stand out, it is part of a pattern of derogatory comments coming from military recruiters. Almost without fail, they always resort to petty insults and claiming that they are here to “protect” the right to free speech.

And now, here is more of the same. A military recruiter who is upset about a video Media Mouse produced last year recently posted a three-minute video on YouTube articulating the tired old argument full of cliches about the military giving us the freedom to protest. It reaches a high point when he says that without a military, “you would be so busy just trying to survive, just take a look at third world countries, the last thing they have time to do is protest against the very people making that provide them with freedom.” It’s just one of many statements that largely defy logic:

Interestingly, a response has been posted by someone with a bag over their head that completely destroys the recruiter’s argument:

Of course, as “fun” as it may be to point out how ridiculous military recruiters are, it is important to remember what they do. They are paid to prey on youth in order to convince them to serve in the military. In doing this, they regularly lie and distort the realities of military service.

Military Recruiting Numbers Released for Michigan and the Nation

New data showing the number of soldiers recruited into the US Army and Army Reserve have been released covering Michigan–including Grand Rapids–as well as the nation. What do the numbers say?

The National Priorities Project has released a new analysis of military recruiting numbers covering the Army and Army Reserve. The numbers–which were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request–reveal a lot about who is recruited into the military and who is targeted. Once again, the Army missed its recruiting goals for 2007.

Even though it still missed its recruiting goals for 2007, there was a noticeable decline in what the military considers to be “quality” recruits. Only 70.7% of recruits had at least a regular diploma in 2007, a decrease from 71.3% in 2006 and 83.5% in 2005. Of those recruited in Michigan in 2007, only a little over 69% had high school dimplomas. Additionally, only ~45% of recruits from Michigan were what the military terms “high quality.” To be a “high quality” recruit, a recruit must have both a high school diploma and score in the upper half of the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

The National Priorities Project analysis showed–as it has in previous years–that wealthy neighborhoods continue to be underrepresented with less recruits.

As a result of recruiting difficulties, the military has substantially increased enlistment bonuses and total expenditures on recruiting. The analysis summarizes these changes:

“Recruiting difficulties have led to increased expenditures spent on recruiting. According to the federal government’s assessment rating of the Department of Defense recruiting program, “[T]he recruiting environment is more difficult, resulting in increased costs for bonuses and other incentives…Additional recruiters and funds were applied to the program in FY 2006 and FY 2007.”4 More than $4 billion is spent annually on recruiting.

Prior to 2005, only non-prior service ‘high quality’ recruits in selected occupations were eligible for bonuses. Subsequently, higher incentives to a much wider audience were implemented. In 2005, the Army instituted the “HiGrad” program which awarded cash bonuses to recruits with college credits, regardless of occupation. In 2006, the maximum amount for an enlistment bonus increased from $20,000 to $40,000 in order to address the shortfall in recruiting experienced in 2005. The Army College Fund payout and the maximum benefit from the Student Loan Repayment Program also increased to $70,000 and $65,000, respectively. In 2007, the Army introduced enlistment bonuses for shorter enlistment periods. In August of that year, the Army announced a $20,000 “quick-ship” bonus for recruits willing to report to basic training within 30 days of enlistment. The “Future Soldier Training Program,” also introduced in 2007 and designed for high school seniors, pays recruits now to serve later. The Army pays high school students $1,000 per month between the commitment contract and leaving for basic training. Recruits in this program receive an additional $1,000 for graduating high school. Students may participate for up to one year, receiving up to $13,000 in the program.

In January 2005, the Army instituted an enlistment bonus of up to $10,000 for prior service recruits. The results of that incentive paid off for the Army. In 2006, more than 12,000 recruits, or nearly 15 percent, were prior service recruits. In 2007, the number climbed to more than 13,000, or 16.2 percent of all 2007 recruits. In 2005, fewer than 6,300, or 8.6 percent, of all recruits were prior service. The shortfalls in new recruits have been made up with prior service recruits.”

Michigan was reached by this effort, although it ranked only 26th overall for total number of Army recruits–a number that is down nearly 11% from 2006. However, a few Michigan counties ranked significantly higher. Wayne County was ranked 17th for total number of recruits while Oakland (45th), Montcalm (64th), Genessee (81), and Kent (91st) were also ranked. When calculated for recruits per 1,000 youth (, several rural Michigan counties were ranked high including Osceola (29th), Oscoda (30th), Presque Isle (51st), Baraga (61st), and Montmorency (70th).

Moreover, the Midwest as a whole has the second highest number of recruits.

Numbers for zip codes in Grand Rapids include:

Total Active Duty Army Recruits:

49503 – 6.0

49504 – 11.0

49505 – 9.0

49506 – 1.0

Total Reserve Army Recruits:

49503 – 1.0

49504 – N/A

49505 – 2.0

49506 – 1.0

Army Active-Duty Recruits: Percent Black:

49503 – 50.00%

49504 – 0.00%

49505 – 11.11%

49506 – 100.00%

Army Active-Duty Recruits: Percent White:

49503 – 50.00%

49504 – 100.00%

49505 – 88.88%

49506 – 0.00%

Army Active-Duty Recruits: Percent Hispanic:

49503 – 0.00%

49504 – 9.09%

49505 – 11.11%

49506 – 0.00%