The Army’s wartime recruiting challenge is aggravated by a sharp drop in enlistments by black people during the past four years. Internal Army and Defense Department polls trace that to an unpopular war in Iraq and concerns among black citizens with Bush administration policies.
The Army strains to meet recruiting goals in part because black volunteers have fallen 41 percent. They’ve gone from 23.5 percent of recruits in fiscal 2000 down to 13.9 percent in the first four months of fiscal 2005.
U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a Democrat whose New York City district includes Harlem, said he wasn’t too surprised by the Army recruiting data.
“I have not found a black person in support of this war in my district,” he said. “The fact that every member of the Congressional Black Caucus—emotionally, politically and vigorously—opposes this war is an indication of what black folks think throughout this country.”
In fiscal 2000, blacks still represented almost a quarter of Army recruits. That percentage fell to 22.7 in ‘01, 19.9 in ‘02, 16.4 in ‘03, 15.9 in ‘04 and 13.9 percent through four months of fiscal 2005. No such decline has been seen among Hispanic or white recruits. Their percentages among Army recruits grew during the first George W. Bush administration.
Another Army-directed poll, the U.S. Military Image Study, is posted on a Defense Contracting Command Web site—likely by mistake. The study was based on interviews with 3,236 people ages 16 to 24. Its report read, “Recruiting an all-volunteer Army in times of war is increasingly difficult.”
Money for college remains a big motivator to enlist, but the Iraq war leaves youth—particularly black youth—conflicted. “More African-Americans identify having to fight for a cause they don’t support as a barrier to military service,” the report read.