The Parent Trap

Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, 26, a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh, went to the home of a high school student who had expressed interest in joining the Marine Reserve to talk to his parents.

It was a large home in a well-to-do suburb north of the city. Two American flags adorned the yard. The prospect’s mom greeted him wearing an American flag T-shirt.

“I want you to know we support you,” she gushed.

Rivera soon reached the limits of her support.

“Military service isn’t for our son. It isn’t for our kind of people,” she told him.

“Parental consent is the toughest thing we face right now,” said Rivera’s boss, Maj. Michael Sherman, 36, commander of the recruiting battalion headquartered in Pittsburgh. “There are so many kids just waiting for their 18th birthday, so they can enlist.” It is even tougher for the Army, which, along with the Marines, has seen the bulk of the action in Iraq, but has far higher enlistment quotas.

Recruiters have to contact as many as 100 young people just to get one who is willing to talk about enlisting, chiefly because of opposition from parents, said Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, commander of the Army Recruiting Command. That’s nearly four times as many as before the war in Iraq began.

The Army’s difficulties were reflected in the latest monthly recruiting figures.

They show that while all active-duty military services met their goals for July, and the Army met its goal for the second month in a row, the Army continues to lag for the recruiting year that began 10 months ago, reaching only 89 percent of its goal.

The Army figures to be about 8,000 soldiers short of its goal of 80,000 for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, which would be the first time since 1999 that it will have missed an annual target.

Army National Guard and Reserve units, even more than the active service, have been having trouble attracting recruits as the war in Iraq continues and the economy improves. Their enlistment figures have not started to rebound _ the Army Guard reached only 80 percent of its July recruiting goal; the Army Reserve, 82 percent. Among all Guard and Reserve units, only the Marines and Air Force achieved their quotas for July.

A recent surge in re-enlistments by people with prior service coincided with a tripling to $15,000 in the bonuses the Army Guard can pay to veterans. If Congress approves doubling the bonus for initial enlistments in the Guard and Reserve, to $20,000, the Guard’s recruiting troubles should be over, said Lt. Col. Mike Jones, a personnel expert at National Guard Bureau headquarters in Arlington, Va.

The Army added 1,015 recruiters this year, the Army National Guard, 1,600.

The Army also increased its advertising budget this year by $40 million, to $300 million. The Army National Guard boosted its ad budget to $52 million, from $46 million.

Army recruiters say all these efforts are fine, but that education benefits remain their most effective lure.

Those who join any branch of the military are eligible for the G.I. Bill. The Army provides additional benefits up to $70,000.

On the other hand, the military’s stiff educational standards make recruiting more difficult. At least 90 percent of those entering the Army this year will have a high school diploma. The figure is 96 percent in the Marine Corps.

“There are a lot of people who are interested, but they can’t pass the (Armed Forces Qualification Test),” said Staff Sgt. Mark Hatfield of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, who recruits in five Pittsburgh area high schools.