Why U.S. Soldiers Quit

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What is being seen as a recruitment problem by the military is really a retention problem, arising as much from the broken promises and mistreatment of enlisted members and veterans as from the unpopular wars they are asked to participate in.

There was no significant rise in enlistment after the 9/11 attacks. As the US expands its global role in combat, the current military of over a million people is being stretched thin, forced to handle increased homeland security, a continuing presence in scores of countries, and interventions that President Bush said may rise to 60 countries.

The renewed pressure on recruiters to meet their quotas has increased the levels of misrepresentation, fraud and abuse that mark the recruitment process and continue to conceal the hidden risks of enlistment and the large numbers of veterans who get less and less of what they were promised each year.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell’s Total Force Doctrine began the practice of using National Guard and Reserve forces in combat abroad in larger numbers than the active duty forces, making all enlistment effective for eight years in which people could be mobilized for war. Regulations in use now refuse to allow troops to leave when their enlistment period expires.

There is still a tremendous turnover of employees in the military, and an active and expensive national recruitment machinery and campaign to replace them, focused in communities of color and among the disadvantaged.

The Pentagon planners are now dipping into the Individual Ready Reserve, moving troops from stations in other long-term assignments abroad, attempting to get veterans to re-enlist and aiming their recruitment messages at the reluctant parents of their target population.

Stars and Stripes, a popular magazine aimed at GIs reported on a poll taken on the ground in the war zones that showed 69% of Army reservists do not plan to re-enlist when their current term of duty ends. Retention is becoming more of a problem than meeting recruiting goals.

To treat all this as a “recruitment problem� misleads the American people about the actual crisis military personnel and their families, from recruits to enlisted members to veterans, face in this wartime military, and fails to address the real and deeper issues about the injustices and undemocratic practices of our military and the wars they are called on to fight that are creating these crises.

Black Star columnist McKinney is a Congresswoman representing Georgia’s 4th District.

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