The center has the highest attraction rate in the area and is ranked in the top 20 in the western United States. This fiscal year, the center’s goal was to attract 64 new recruits by October. As of June they are six people away from reaching that goal.
“We know what we want and we are really big on knowing our demographics,” Sgt. 1st Class Michael Congdon said of the centers recruitment methods. “This community is outstanding. They have really welcomed us with open arms.”
Congdon lives by a few rules for his recruitment work for the Army.
“There is a general rule in this office that that no one is going to talk to a teen without a parent in the house,” Congdon said.
He also evaluates potential recruits on the basis of whether or not he would want them serving by his side in a combat situation.
“We have to look at the better need of the Army,” Congdon said. “Do I want this guy next to me in Iraq?”
According to Capt. Ronald Jones, the Army raised its recruitment standards at the beginning of the year, making it harder for parents to adopt the mentality that the Army is for kids who are just skirting the fringes of prison time.
“A lot of parents don’t realize that the old school mentality doesn’t apply anymore,” Jones said. “‘He is getting in trouble so he needs to join (the Army).’ It’s not jail or war anymore.”
“They (Army recruiters) are shifting the focus to the college market,” Congdon added.
In a Feb. 1 press release, the Department of Defense reported that in 2007 the active-duty Army met department goals for the percentage of recruits scoring high on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, but fell short of the goal of 90 percent of recruits holding a high school diploma. Only 79 percent of active-duty recruits for 2007 had high school diplomas.
With the pervious shortage in educated recruits, the Army announced at the beginning of 2008 that it would be shifting its marketing focus to attract those who hold university degrees. Congdon has made quality and education a personal goal for the Sparks recruitment center.
“We are not so focused on numbers here that it is crazy,” Congdon said adding that because they never have a problem reaching their goals they can focus on finding quality recruits. “Misdemeanors and minor offenses are not really allowed here anymore.”
If a new recruit has some blemishes on their public record, Congdon said that there may still be a chance to join the Army, but that at the Sparks center they take recruitment very seriously. If the person does have a minor offense on their record, they must go through an evaluation process. If the offense reached a certain level of severity, then the recruit is passed along to Jones, who can either make a decision or pass the recruit on to higher military authority.
“I ask myself ‘Do I want this guy fighting next to me?’ If the answer is no then it stops there,” Jones said.
The biggest challenge that recruiters face in the Sparks area, according to Congdon, is getting a grip on the culture and predeterminations of the community.
For example, when Congdon goes into a school, he said he must be very careful about who he makes contact with. The rules about acceptable recruitment methods vary by school, but no Army representative is allowed to start the recruitment process with a child that has signed an opt-out form. After signing this form, the school cannot release any information about the child to any agency, including the U.S. Military.
“We approach people by reading body language,” Congdon said. “But sometimes that is hard. We don’t know who has signed an opt-out form. If you are interested, don’t be afraid to come to us.”
Congdon will be at the Sparks Hometowne Farmers Market on Thursdays along with staff from his office throughout the summer.
“There are a lot of veterans there,” Congdon said. “A lot of them will thank you.”
According to Congdon and Jones, those younger people who are interested in the Army are approaching them out of a feeling of patriotism.
“Most have an inner desire to be a part of something bigger,” Congdon said.