As the economy declines, military recruiting rises

Somber news on Wall Street might be helping the nation's armed services recruit and retain Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen.

At a press conference last week, the Pentagon announced all branches of the military met or exceeded recruiting goals for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, called 2008 the military's "strongest recruiting year since 2004" and said a slumping American economy and a scarce number of civilian jobs could mean even more recruits in 2009.

"We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society," he said. "I don't have the Dow Jones banner running

behind me here this morning, but that is a situation where more people are willing to give us a chance. ... People are willing to listen to us."

Meeting recruiting goals is important for the Marine Corps, which plans to expand its force from 175,000 to 202,000 by 2011. The Corps exceeded its 2008 recruiting mission by 24 recruits for a total of 37,991 and hit its target number in 2007.

The Corps must recruit 39,296 new Marines in 2009, according to statistics from Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

The economy could become a strong selling point for recruiters, said Maj. Chris Devine, public affairs officer for Recruiting Command at Headquarters

Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.

"We would suspect that the economy will have much more of an effect on recruiting officers than recruiting enlisted personnel," Devine said. "You have these college graduates, coming out of school and into this marketplace. We could get a more serious look from those candidates."

Devine said the Corps was on pace to meet or exceed the 202,000 mark by 2011.

"Of course, all of the work our recruiters are doing out on the streets has a direct impact on places like Marine Corps

Recruit Depot San Diego and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island," he said.

Parris Island, which also serves as the headquarters of the Corps' Eastern Recruiting Region, is the lone recruit

depot for all Marines recruited east of the Mississippi River and Puerto Rico. All female Marine recruits are trained at Parris Island.

The depot already has begun preparing for the increasing number of recruits in upcoming years.

To handle immediate growth, the depot launched a $16 million project to build temporary barracks, and earlier this month, the Navy awarded a $77 million contract to a Louisiana construction company to build a new barracks complex at Parris Island. The economy also could influence Marines' decision to stay in the Corps, both among first-time and career Marines.

"In some aspects, Marines look at their careers in the same way other people look at their jobs," said Lt. Col. Robert

Hagen, head of the enlistment and retention section at Headquarters Marine Corps. "None of us do this for free. We look at the tangible benefits, the

compensation package.

"But you also have to factor in the intangible benefits and what it means to us to be Marines and what value you place on that. We think that should be an equally weighted factor."