The Recruit

by Zachary Ambrahamson:

Recruitment transforms citizens into soldiers. It is too easy to forget that behind every headline is the story of someone who had once been a civilian. In some instances, people might have rushed to join the military; in others, they might have wished to avoid the military altogether, until they saw the economic incentives. Whatever the reasoning, every young man or woman—from South Africa to Canada to Iraq—must decide whether to serve his or her country. And it falls upon the militaries of their nations to convince them to take the plunge.

A Legacy of Race: Recruiting in South Africa

Colonel Ilse Delport, a recruiting officer for the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) who works to recruit white soldiers, said it’s a “struggle” to reach the quota for whites in the military. The government mandates that whites fill 24% of all military posts. At first glance it seems that the SANDF has been largely successful: the SANDF’s 2006 report showed that it fell just short of the quota, with whites filling 21% of all posts.

But just what “posts” do those whites fill? In senior management levels, whites hold 56% of posts while blacks hold 38%. At professional levels, that gap widens, with whites constituting 65%. Among the enlisted, however, the disparity reverses. Less than seven percent are white—a figure far beneath the government’s 24% quota.

Delport explained the dearth of white soldiers in the lower ranks by pointing to the anti-military sentiment among South Africa’s white communities, which, she claimed, the affirmative action program has only aggravated. The program, begun in 1994 as part of SANDF’s massive transformation, has phased out top white military officials and replaced them with blacks in order to make the upper ranks of the SANDF more representative of South Africa’s general population. “That doesn’t sit well with the white community,” Delport said.

Still, an imbalance persists in the upper echelons of the SANDF, where the most experienced officers are those who were trained under Apartheid. David Monyae, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that this discrepancy in skill and training is to be expected in a force that was integrated only twelve years ago. “To understand what’s happening in the SANDF, you have to understand what is going on in the country,” Monyae explained. “It’s a country that’s undergoing transition.”

The SANDF has had great success recruiting from other racial groups in South Africa. Blacks and mixed-race nationals contribute heavily to the 100,000 applications the SANDF receives annually. And although the selection process appears competitive—the force only accepts 6,000 new soldiers per year—the salary is not, starting at a mere 36,735 rand, or $5,100. For a white population with an unemployment rate of just five percent, these salaries are not enough to overcome the anti-military sentiment Delport observes.

Monyae expects the “transition period” to end in roughly a decade. Until then, Delport will continue her mission, traveling to white communities to engage in an altogether different type of affirmative action: the recruitment of white soldiers.

From the Ground Up: Recruiting in Iraq

In war-torn cities like Baghdad, Najaf, and Mosul, the new Iraqi Security Force (ISF) sells itself as the face of a proud, reinvigorated Iraq. So far, that pitch has been remarkably successful, attracting droves of young men to recruiting events.

“I wanted to serve my country,” said one new jundi, or recruit, in an email. “The army represents the traditions and honor of the nation.”

The jundi, whose name cannot be released for security reasons, went on to explain that he joined the ISF out of a desire to bring “stability and security” to his country. While recognizing the dangers inherent in joining the military, he thought Iraqi security was well worth the risk of enlisting. His father died while serving in the air force, and as a result, the jundi planned to follow in his father’s footsteps by forging a career in the military. Today, the recruit is a chief warrant officer (a rank equivalent to that of an American Sergeant Major) in a Special Operations Unit.

The Iraqi Security Force finds most of its new recruits through recruiting drives. Thousands of Iraqi men show up to join the armed forces. Recruiters then pare down each pool of applicants to a select few, who are then sent basic training. Each soldier takes home a base pay of 477,000 Iraqi dinars monthly, or about $323.

Not all new ISF soldiers are picking up weapons for the first time. In many cases, when special skills are required, a former soldier from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist military is a vastly more attractive recruit than a completely new soldier. In the case of pilots, for instance, where training and certification can take upwards of three years, the ISF welcomes those whose loyalties once aligned with the government that the U.S. overthrew.

The recruiters’ job is still one of the most difficult in Iraq. Going to work each morning can be a matter of life and death. U.S. Major Carlos Rowe described the danger diplomatically, calling the recruiter an “attractive target” for insurgents seeking to undermine the fledgling security forces.

Building a new, modern army from the ground up is no easy task. Iraqi recruiters represent the first step of that process for Iraq’s new government. As much as the security situation of the new Iraq hampers the efforts of recruiters, it also contributes to the number of recruits the ISF can obtain. U.S. Major Gerald Ostlund explained that, for many Iraqis in battle-torn cities, a job with the ISF is the only gig in town. In a nation that faces so many challenges, the possibility of recruitment might be one bright spot amid a sea of problems.

Spring for the Maple Leaf: Canada’s Military Expansion

The Canadian Forces (CF) produced a new series of commercials. Silent, grainy, and somber, the commercials present a stark portrait of the CF’s combat operations. In one ad, a few grim, helmeted Canadian troops dart silently across an abandoned street to an eerie drumbeat, rifles aimed at threatening windows. Another scene shows a Canadian soldier surveying a pile of twisted girders. The reel closes with words flashing across the screen: “Fight Fear. Fight Distress. Fight Chaos. Fight with the Canadian Forces.”

“They wanted reality,” said Yannick Beauvalet—acting director of marketing and advertising services with the CF—of the young focus groups that viewed the ads during development. The military reality is not what it once was, requiring a change in the way the CF markets itself.

The CF is in the process of its first expansion since the Korean War, coming on the heels of Steven Harper’s Conservative government taking power in 2006. Since the Conservative accession, Canadian foreign policy has swung round to a more U.S.-friendly stance, one that includes a more active role in Afghanistan in compensation for a cold shoulder on Iraq.

The country’s expanded military presence, especially in Afghanistan, has Canadians questioning their traditional role as peacekeepers. In 1956, the Canadian Secretary of State Lester Pearson coined the term “peacekeeping” when he suggested sending a multinational force to calm tensions in the Suez Canal. Today, a Canadian Force of 2,500 is fighting in the southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan as part of a campaign named “Operation Archer.” Canada’s role in the fighting has drawn sharp criticism, and each Canadian casualty only accentuates the discontent in the press. In 2006 alone, 36 Canadians fell in combat, compared with only seven in the preceding four years combined.

Despite Canadians’ initial shock at their fellow citizens’ deaths, the Afghan campaign seems to be aiding the CF in its recruitment goals. Stephen Churm, the CF’s diversity officer in Hamilton, Ontario, said the constant reels of CF personnel fighting in Afghanistan effectively target a demographic that loathes the desk job. “All the news coverage on Afghanistan tells them they can make a difference with the Canadian Forces,” Churm said.

Canadians continue to see that difference, for better or worse, on TV screens, in newspapers, and in the faces of their neighbors who have lost loved ones overseas. How they ultimately respond to these images and CF’s recruiting efforts will redefine Canadians’ place in our world.