Slightly more Hispanics have been joining the military since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars while the number of blacks signing up has dropped, according to Pentagon data.
The trend involving Hispanics is somewhat mixed and varies according to military service, with more heading into the Army in 2006 than in 2001 and fewer answering the Marines’ call.
But the latest Army figures also suggest a potential problem with sustaining that level of recruiting in the future: There was slight dip between 2005 and 2006, the last year for which numbers were available.
That decline caused concern among Marine leaders and led Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, to call for increased recruiting.
He said he wants the Marine Corps “to roughly parallel the ethnic makeup of our country. I think that’s what our country would expect of our military.”
Maj. Wesley Hayes, spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said the Marines are working to reach out more to Hispanic parents and other adults who influence potential recruits.
In recent weeks, he said, they created an area on their Web site in Spanish that is targeted at parents.
The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. Other job prospects are soaring and relatives of potential recruits increasingly are discouraging them from joining the armed services.
According to data obtained by The Associated Press, the decline covers all four military services for active duty recruits. The drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.
The findings reflect the growing unpopularity of the wars, particularly among family members and other adults who exert influence over high school and college students considering the military as a place to serve their country, further their education or build a career.
Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway agreed that the bloodshed in Iraq—where more than 3,540 U.S. troops have died—is the biggest deterrent for prospective recruits.
According to Pentagon data, there were nearly 51,500 new black recruits for active duty and reserves in 2001. That number fell to less than 32,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decline.
When only active duty troops are counted, the number of black recruits went from more than 31,000 in 2002 to about 23,600 in 2006, almost one-quarter fewer.
The decline is particularly stark for the Army. Blacks represented about 23 percent of the active Army’s enlisted recruits in 2000, but 12.4 percent in 2006.
The decline in black recruits overall has been offset partly by an increase in Hispanic recruits and those who classify themselves as other races or nationalities.
This category could include people who consider themselves Portuguese, or of other European descent that are not covered by the main categories of white, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan, black or Hispanic.
Sgt. Terry Wright, an Army recruiter in Tampa, Fla. said young people in the black community have more education and job opportunities now than when he joined the service 14 years ago.
He acknowledged recruiters are spending more time with parents and other adults from whom potential recruits seek advice. In addition, he said recruiters are speaking more often to community and ethnic groups to encourage military service.
Gilroy, the Pentagon official, said the improving economy is giving potential recruits more opportunities for better paying jobs outside the military.
But he said the growing dissatisfaction with the war among black political and community leaders, as well as parents and teachers, is a major factor, too.
“The influencers of these youth have a larger effect on African-Americans,” Gilroy said. “Some have argued that, because of the makeup of African-American families and the relatively more significant roles (the families) play, moms have a greater influence on their families. And we know that moms, in general, do not support the war.”
He said it is up to the country’s leaders, particularly members of Congress who have served in the military to “talk about the nobility of service.”
With detailed, color-coded graphs, the military can chart the erosion in support for the war among the adults who surround recruits of all ethnicities.
A green line denoting the percentage of grandparents likely to recommend military service shows the steepest drop—from a high of 56 percent in mid-2004 to 34 percent last fall. Support is lowest among mothers. At the start of the war, 36 percent of moms would recommend military service; by last fall, it was 25 percent.
Sgt. Carlos Alvarez, a recruiting station commander in Tampa, Fla., said many minorities have strong family ties and winning over parents, grandparents and other relatives is critical when talking to potential recruits.
At the same time, the military is opening the door to many recruits it has not welcomed in the past. That includes people who are a bit older; who score lower on aptitude tests; and who have medical conditions such as asthma or attention deficit disorders that can be controlled better now with medicine.
The Army, for example, increased its age limit for recruits from 35 to 42.