The US Army Recruiting Command has a motto: “First to contact, first to contract.” In the school recruiting handbook the Army gives to the 7,500 recruiters it has trawling the nation these days, the motto crops up so often it serves as a stuttering paean to aggressive new tactics–tactics that target increasingly younger students.
To make sure they are the first folks to contact students about their future plans, Army recruiters are ordered to approach tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders–repeatedly. Army officials spell out the rules of engagement: Recruiters are told to dig in deep at their assigned high schools, to offer their services as assistant football coaches–or basketball coaches or track coaches or wrestling coaches or baseball coaches (interestingly, not softball coaches or volleyball coaches)–to “offer to be a chaperon [sic] or escort for homecoming activities and coronations” (though not thespian ones), to “Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month,” to participate visibly in Hispanic Heritage and Black History Month activities, to “get involved with local Boy Scout troops” (Girl Scouts aren’t mentioned), to “offer to be a timekeeper at football games,” to “serve as test proctors,” to “eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month” and to “always remember secretary’s week with a card or flowers.” They should befriend student leaders and school staff: “Know your student influencers,” they are told. “Identify these individuals and develop them as COIs” (centers of influence). After all, “some influential students such as the student president or the captain of the football team may not enlist; however, they can and will provide you with referrals who will enlist.” Cast a wide net, recruiters are told. Go for the Jocks, but don’t ignore the Brains. “Encourage college-capable individuals to defer their college until they have served in the Army.”
Army brass urge recruiters to use a “trimester system of senior contacts,” reaching out to high school seniors at three vulnerable points. In the spring, when students’ futures loom largest, the handbook advises: “For some it is clear that college is not an option, at least for now. Let them know that the Army can fulfill their college aspirations later on.”
Finally, recruiters must follow the vulnerable to college: “Focus on the freshman class [there] because they will have the highest dropout rate. They often lack both the direction and funds to fully pursue their education.” (Thus do decreasing federal funds for college complement recruiters’ goals.)
“The good [high school] program is a proactive one,” the sloganeering commanders remind. “The early bird gets the worm.”