Uncle Sam Speaks Spanish

As recruitment numbers wane, the Pentagon targets young Latinos

| September-October 2005

  • uncle-sam

    Image by Flickr user: DonkeyHotey / Creative Commons

  • uncle-sam

As military enlistment numbers continue to plummet, the Pentagon has taken a cue from the salsa, reggaeton, and Tex-Mex “Hispanic marketing” craze that’s hypnotizing corporate America. According to John McLaurin, the U.S. Army’s deputy assistant secretary of human resources, the military hopes to increase Latino enlistment between 10 and 22 percent by 2025.

Besides putting more Spanish-speaking recruiters into the field (some driving customized Hummers), the plan includes a multi-million-dollar media blitz designed by Hispanic ad agencies expert at creating brand loyalty. Bilingual appeals on the Univision television network, its radio division, the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, and in publications such as Hispanic and Latina magazines contain promises of a higher purpose, a college education, and, of course, adventure. Above all, the ads often emphasize economic opportunity and equate military values with the family values that are especially resonant in the Latino community.

“War is a business,” explains Fernando Suarez del Solar, who founded the San Diego-based counterrecruitment organization Guerrero Azteca (Aztec Warrior) after his son Jesus was killed in Iraq in March 2003. And the military, he says, “spends millions” to get kids to buy its product. The Department of Defense’s program for joint marketing communications and market research and studies, called JAMRS, has shown specific interest in Latino youth and, according to its Web site, commissioned a study to review “differences in Hispanics of different countries of origin or of different immigration waves, and how both have changed over time.”

The Pentagon has already segmented its Latino recruitment efforts, creating specific programs based on language, sex, immigration status, religious affiliation, class status, and, most disturbing to critics like del Solar, age and grade.

“When it comes to recruiting Latino kids, Mr. Bush really does want ‘no child left behind,’” he says. “They take kids on field trips once a month to places like [Southern California’s] Camp Pendleton. They want to create the addiction to war at an earlier age.”

To help the military’s cause, the Bush administration has required schools with a high concentration of Latinos to provide access for ROTC programs. School administrators have also been forced to divulge detailed information about their students. Massive databases, which include birth dates, Social Security numbers, and class grades, are used to pinpoint particularly susceptible candidates. Since 15 percent of Latinos between the ages of 16 and 19 quit school before graduating from high school (the highest dropout rate in the nation), the military also makes sure to promote the fact that it accepts students who have acquired a GED.

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