Army policy a good one

Recent questions have been raised about an Army policy that allows West Point graduates who participate in professional athletics to serve their duty in the non-traditional manner. While some question the new policy this writer thinks it's a good one

It's been widely publicized that the Army is struggling to meet its recruiting quotas. Since September 2001 as Army casualties have mounted, not surprisingly, long lines have formed outside the Air Force and Navy recruiting offices. The Army critically needs volunteers to fill the ranks of soldiers serving our great nation. There's even been some talk in Congress about reinstating the draft.

The Army policy allows West Point graduates who make it to the professional athletic ranks to serve the Army in a recruiting capacity for two years while competing with a professional sports organization. After two years of active service the officer is required to serve six years in the Army reserve.

This type of program is nothing new. The Army has for years allowed soldiers to compete in their World Class Athlete program. This program was for outstanding boxers, shooters, wrestlers and other athletes who have the ability to compete and win in the Olympics. Athletes in this program also work with local recruiting units to help promote the Army and generate enlistments. Yes, some members are even officers. While some may question the importance of such work ask any Army recruiting sergeant and he'll usually tell you that he's happy to get any help he can in the field. Besides, why should West Point graduates be treated differently than other officers? If a West Point officer can compete at the highest level in football, baseball, etc. why shouldn't they be allowed to serve their nation in a similar capacity as those officers in the Army's World Class Athlete Program? Let's let our recruiters have the assistance of NFL stars.

Officers serve in recruiting capacities too; this is not an area limited only for sergeant's work. Every U.S. Army recruiter has a company commander, which is usually a captain in rank; a battalion commander (Lieutenant Colonel) and a brigade commander (Colonel). There's even a general officer that serves the Army's recruiting interests. He's the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and usually wears two stars on his sleeve. You see, recruiting, while not glamorous like the infantry, is very vital to the Army. Every enlisted soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else had to go through an Army recruiter before he could get to the drill sergeant and before he could get to any command.

You say, what can an NFL player do to help recruiting? Every NFL athlete is a celebrity in his team's market area. He can do a lot to help that recruiter find qualified prospects for the Army. Bring a lone recruiter to a high school and he's just another guy wearing a uniform. Put an NFL player with that recruiter and suddenly that recruiter is with Elvis. That NFL player can open doors that might never have been opened for him or the Army. Look, the Army has paid millions to sponsor NASCAR, dragster and other drivers. These sponsorships have helped to promote the Army in a positive manner. Wouldn't it make economic sense to also let these professional athletes help promote the Army in a similar manner?

If one of these professional athletes can help the Army bring in 200 new soldiers during his two years while serving as a athlete-soldier then it was definitely worth the Army letting him perform this non-traditional service. Think about it; the soldier-athlete could serve two years as a platoon leader in an Army unit and then he's gone for good except for his reserve obligation. Or he could serve two years in this program, generate 200 new soldiers that otherwise might never have worn an Army uniform. Then after he leaves active duty there are still 200 soldiers serving proudly in the Army. He can also help with recruiting during his reserve obligation and help bring in even more good soldiers.

The fact is recruiting is officer's business too. The Army has for years had athletes, officers included, who trained full time, year around, and helped with recruiting. West Point graduates should be treated no differently than officers who obtained the commissions through ROTC or OCS. Most importantly, the Army needs soldiers and lots of them. If a professional athlete can help get the Army 200 news soldiers in two years then it's worth it to let him play while serving his country in recruiting.

Of course the Air Force and Navy aren't going to adopt a similar policy. They have people lined up outside their recruiting offices. Because of a backlog of new recruits, some of their new enlistees are reportedly waiting a year or more to go to their initial training. They don't need such a program. The Army does and we should do everything in our power to help the Army keep it.


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