“…and I got this medal for rounding up yokels. But enough about me. Let’s talk about your future.”
Today, Shelley is on duty in what he calls a “one-man fighting hole” on another battlefield — a Marine recruiting station in Lexington Park, Md., in St. Mary’s County — with a mission to persuade young men and women to enlist, and probably go to war.
One recent night, after making dozens of fruitless phone calls to high school students, Shelley said his recruiting job is more taxing than combat. “I hear ‘no’ more times in one day than a child would hear in their entire childhood,” he said. “If I had hair, I’d pull it out.”
Shelley, for example, has signed up four people in nearly six months, despite working 16-hour days. Asked why recruiting is so difficult, he has a quick reply: “The war.”
Increasingly, surveys show that the main reason young American adults avoid military service is that they — and to a greater degree their parents — fear that enlisting could mean a war-zone deployment and death or injury. One survey showed such fears nearly doubling among respondents from 2000 to 2004.
Shelley’s situation exemplifies the pressure on today’s recruiters. Up at 6:30, he consults his “plan of attack,” a white sheet of paper on which he pencils in his activities by the hour. At lunchtime, he hits fast-food restaurants. When school lets out at 2:45, he starts calling potential recruits at home. In early evening, he goes to gas stations or the 7-Eleven, scouting for youths with “less desirable” jobs. At night, he is out “AC-ing,” or “area canvassing,” until 10:30.
Palming the steering wheel of his steel-gray Dodge Stratus one night, Shelley cruises slowly past a Chick-fil-A. Scanning the cars, he estimates who’s in the restaurant and whether it’s worth going in. It’s not.
He makes one last, failed pitch of the day — to an overweight young man stacking tomatoes at Giant — and heads home. As long as the war drags on, recruiting won’t improve, he predicts. “I think it’s going to get worse.”
Keep in mind that Shelley represents the Marines which is the top of the food chain of the services.