Friday, August 26, 2005

Hey, Recruiters, Leave Those Kids Alone!

If you click the “G-Spot” link on my sidebar, the page you’ll come to tells you that you have to verify your age before entering that site. The reason is it’s the site for an alcoholic beverage brewer.

I never used to understood why they did that. The reason for age-restricting porn sites is obvious – they have porn on them. But you can’t swig an alcoholic beverage or smoke a cigarette online, so what’s the big deal?

Well, turns out the company who runs the site can get into trouble for “marketing to minors” if they don’t at least try to restrict access in some way. Hence, the virtually impossible to enforce age verification formality. (A site sitting passively on the Web doesn’t constitute “marketing” to anyone, as far as I’m concerned. But, I digress.)

So, we have established this fact: You CANNOT market a product or service to a person who is not old enough to legally partake of them.

Why, then, are military recruiters allowed to call 16-year-olds? And why are they allowed to set up shop right inside high schools? There seems to be quite a double standard at work here.

There have been a lot of stories in the news in recent months about overaggressive and unprincipled military recruiters. These have often been in the context of lagging recruitment numbers, due undoubtedly to the prospect of service in Iraq.

Some parents have formed groups, such as Leave My Child Alone, to, er… combat overzealous military recruiters. Some states are also trying to limit or remove military recruiters from high school campuses altogether. Federal laws, including at least one section of the No Child Left Behind Act, make that difficult, however. Federal funds can be denied to states and schools that do not accommodate the military with student phone lists, which they use to call up potential recruits.

Recruiting is getting tougher and tougher, and it shows. Monthly goals have been off-target for most branches of the service. That doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, either. Again, the prospect of dying at the hands of insurgents in Iraq is widely accepted as a probable explanation for this phenomenon.

In response to this challenge, the military is bringing out the big guns: Advertisements. The action movie style of TV spot is giving way to something a little more poignant and profound. Now, the tone is subdued and the message is that parents should encourage and/or allow their teens to enlist. A lot of parents can’t get their teens to wash their hands before dinner, clean their room or come home at a decent hour, some I’m not sure how effective that aspect of the campaign will be.

As a teen I did get a few calls from recruiters. They weren’t the most aggressive guys, but they didn’t give up easily. It’s not like I didn’t know the military existed, and couldn’t go talk to someone if I cared to, though. But I didn’t, and therefore didn’t need the calls.

I remember being really ticked that my school would give away information about me to anyone, but especially to someone who is going to make unsolicited calls to me. Imagine a similar scenario: Your employer sells the staff roster to a local telemarketing firm. That feces wouldn’t fly, and neither should this.

I don’t know if the recruitment slump will turn around anytime soon, nor do I know how successful anti-recruitment efforts will be, given existing laws. I do think it is important for military recruiters to remember one thing, though:

“No means NO!”

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