Tom Philpott | October 25, 2007
Marines Begin to Reverse Sharp Drop in Black Recruits
The proportion of Marine Corp recruits who are African American jumped by 40 percent over the last 12 months, halting a seven-year slide that has worried service leaders.
In fiscal 2007, which ended Sept. 30, blacks were 10.9 percent of Marine recruits, up from 7.8 percent in 2006, the smallest proportion of black recruits for the Corps since the all-volunteer force began 33 years ago.
The increase is timely given a Marine Corps plan to expand its active force by 27,000 over the next five years in response to protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other worldwide commitments.
All active services met numerical recruiting goals for fiscal 2007. Only the Army missed a key quality benchmark. Twenty-one percent of its recruits in fiscal 2007 did not graduate from high school. The goal is that no service signs more than 10 percent non-graduates.
Douglas Smith, spokesman for Army Recruiting Command, said the proportion of blacks among Army recruits in fiscal 2007 held steady at about 15 percent. The Marine Corps, however, relied on a rebound in black recruiting, along with continued growth in Hispanics accessions, to meet a recruiting target that was raised by 2700, to 40,890, for fiscal 2007.
When numbers of recruits are compared, the increase in black recruits was 49 percent – a total of 4440 in ’07 compared with 2980 in fiscal ’06, said Maj. Wes Hayes, spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command. He credited an expansion of the recruiting force in 2007 and a more effective marketing and advertising campaign.
Surveys show that parents, teachers, clergy and other “influencers” of black youth are advising against enlistment in the military, particularly U.S. ground forces. Part of the reason is wartime danger. But black communities also deeply opposed President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
The jump in black recruits over the last 12 months came to light as Corps leaders weigh a recommendation from the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) to launch a public relations campaign in black communities armed with the findings of new CNA report, “Black and Hispanic Marines: Their Accession, Representation, Success and Retention in the Corps.”
Through the 1980s, it says, blacks were about 18 percent of Marine recruits. That average fell after he first Persian Gulf War and stayed at between 12 to 14 percent through the 1990s. Black accessions then dropped steadily for the Corps from 1999 through 2006.
What CNA found is that blacks who do join the Marines go on to reenlist at “significantly higher rates” than Marines from other racial or ethnic backgrounds, a strong sign of job satisfaction. In fiscal 2006, first-term reenlistment rates were 40.4 percent for blacks, 27.6 for Hispanics and 23.8 percent for whites. Similar patterns held for second and third-term reenlistments across racial groups, though at higher percentages.
Black are less likely to serve in combat specialties, like rifleman, preferring to enter support occupational fields such as supply and personnel administration. But they also are more likely to stay for full careers. Blacks were 20 percent of Marine recruits more than two decades ago. That same generation of blacks is now 32 percent of Marine E-9s, its sergeant majors and master gunnery sergeants, CNA says.
The report describes quality of life for black men in the civilian sector as “uneven” while many blacks in the Corps thrive professionally.
“Although many black men succeed” in civilian life, CNA says, “extremely low marriage rates and relatively high unemployment rates characterize the civilian experience for some. In contrast, black male enlisted Marines have steady jobs and are just as likely to be married as their white counterparts.”
Black influencers need to know these facts, CNA says.
“If the Marine Corps wants to ensure that its senior enlisted ranks 20 years from now reflect Americans’ diversity, it must publicize the lifestyle, job satisfaction and financial well-being that black youth can achieve through careers in the Corps,” the report advises.
In an interview, Dr. Aline Quester, CNA’s top analyst on Marine Corps manpower issues and co-author of the report, said getting the information out is important if service strength is to grow, as planned, by 4000 to 5000 a year. Also, continuing a steady decline in black accession would undermine the Corps’ goal for a force that mirrors the racial mix of the country.
Gary Lee, who retired as sergeant major of the Marine Corps in 1999, also worked on the CNA report. He said it is “common knowledge” that black parents have “soured on the war” and are “more apt to implore their sons and daughters not to join.”
Changing minds will take time, he said, but the CNA analysis should help to better inform communities about the rewards of Marine Corps service.
Black parents opposed to the war, Quester added, should know “that the marriage rate by age is the same basically for everybody in the Marine Corps. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white or Hispanic.” That reflects the facts, she said, “that these people have found careers, that they’re compensated no hugely but certainly fairly, that there’s a good retirement system, that there’s health care for their children and support for families.”
Anita Hattiangadi, another CNA analyst, said the Corps is developing a strategy to get more senior enlisted African Americans out into black communities to discuss Marine Corps opportunities.
Of 969 Marines who have died in Iraq, 39 were African American and 139 Hispanic. Hispanics comprise 18 percent of enlisted Marines today up from 15 percent when the Iraq war began.
Copyright 2007 Tom Philpott. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of PVMSEC.
About Tom Philpott
Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families. Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.
Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.