Military to start recruiting at shopping malls

By ROBERT BURNS

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon plans to set up recruiting stations in major shopping malls across the nation, opening a new “front” in its battle to attract young men and women, a senior official said today.

Bernard Rostker, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters that in December the first of these new recruiting offices would be established in the Potomac Mills megamall outside Washington. It will seek recruits for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

“We’ll try it in a number of other high-traffic malls throughout the country,” he said, without mentioning any specific places.

Rostker described the planned recruiting stations as “gee-whiz, high-tech” offices, a departure from the military’s usual approach of putting recruiters in low-rent, sometimes obscure areas with little pedestrian traffic.

“You look at our normal recruiting stations and ask, why aren’t they in high-traffic areas,” Rostker said. The reply he usually gets is that rents in such places are too high.

“You say, ‘Why are the rents high?’ And the answer is, ‘Because a lot of people go there,’ ” he said, mocking the logic of past practice.

This new approach is part of a broader series of changes the Pentagon is making to strengthen its recruiting at a time when a more high school graduates are going directly to college rather than serving in the military first. The booming civilian economy also has made recruiting more difficult.

The military services are making more use of the Internet to get their recruiting message out, and the Air Force is making more use of television advertising. The Pentagon has established an Internet site, called Today’s Military, to provide information on military service, including educational benefits.

In this past budget year, which ended Sept. 30, each service met its recruiting goals – the first time in three years that all achieved their standard. In 1999, both the Army and the Air Force fell short, and in 1998 the Army and Navy fell short.

The recruiting effort has been helped over the past year by unexpected gains in retaining troops. That means fewer recruits are needed to fill the gaps. Despite the overall gains, the Air Force in particular is having trouble keeping enough pilots, despite offering bonuses.

“We cannot compete with the airlines on (financial) compensation,” Rostker said.

In a related development, the Navy announced today a new program designed to protect sailors from “lending predators,” or loan sharks who target young people ill-informed about managing their money. The Navy will provide boot camp graduates with two days of instruction in personal financial management by civilian professionals, and Naval Academy midshipmen also will get special instruction.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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