With blinkers now on, Midwest recruiters will steer their way out of the information superhighway’s slow lane in 2006.
By next year, recruiters will have individual e-mail accounts and Internet access using improved laptops with wireless connections, reported 9th Marine Corps District officials recently.
The initiative, outlined to the eight recruiting stations’ computer technicians during an Oct. 25-27 conference in Kansas City, Mo., is chiefly aimed at taking a big step toward merging two key tools used to enlist people.
All recruiters’ computers are currently equipped with the Automated Enlistment Package software. This program, designed by Marine Corps Recruiting Command, enables a recruiter to efficiently complete the paperwork required for an enlistment package, said Rick Reitz, RS Des Moines’ computer technician. However, the paperwork still needs to be printed off and hand-carried to Military Entrance Processing Stations for each applicant.
Recruiters also submit an applicant’s information — usually verbally or via fax — to their station’s operations sections, where it is manually typed in to the Marine Corps Recruiting Information Support System, a database that tracks an applicant through graduation or discharge and shows each MEPS who is coming to be screened or shipping to boot camp.
By future design, recruiters would enter applicants' data once, creating both a digital enlistment package instantly available at MEPS and updating MCRISS, thus eliminating the task for RS operations clerks, said Reitz.
Long-term benefits aside, recruiters here voiced eagerness to embrace the technology that can shorten the communications gulf with the wired-in generation they aim to attract.
“We’ve got to stay in line with our market,” said Reitz, a retired master sergeant who served in various recruiting billets from 1989-2002. “If an applicant wants you to send him info via e-mail and you can’t, then you’ve lost him.”
In a survey conducted in late 2004, the Pew Internet and American Life Project discovered that 92 percent of 15 to 17-year-olds send or read e-mail, and more than half go online daily. In fiscal year 2005, nearly 312,000 qualified leads were attained by visitors to Marines.com, 12,607 of which eventually enlisted, said Carmen Boyce, account director at the Corps’ advertising agency, J.Walter Thompson, in Atlanta.
Priority Prospect Cards sometimes list a lead’s e-mail address, which recruiters can now use when traditional means fail. E-mailing poolees can help recruiters become more engaged, possibly reducing pool attrition.
Other pluses envisioned by Marines here include sending and receiving better quality documents rather than bad faxes, looking up driving directions and being able to connect anywhere within reach of a wireless network.
Substation SNCOICs, who have sluggish dial-up connections, anticipate swifter e-mails and downloads, said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph M. Angel, RSS Des Moines SNCOIC.
Using a wireless network ideally quickens data flow by 10 times, said Reitz.
Still, realistic recruiters brace for the plethora of likely technical hurdles associated with computers. “If we start to rely on it too much and we have technical problems, it could delay us instead of fast-forwarding us,” said Sgt. Benjamin Mercado, RSS Des Moines recruiter.
Yet, since all the recruiter’s computers would be part of a secure network, computer techs could access any laptop and fix many problems without leaving their desks at the station headquarters, said Reitz. Currently, bringing a tech and a broken laptop face-to-screen could take days.
Though funds are earmarked for the new laptops, recruiters probably won’t see them until at least the middle of 2006, said Reitz. In the interim, their existing laptops will be equipped with wireless modems. Additionally, recruiters will need to use their Common Access Card (or military identification card) to log in.
Shaving off time and money to install their own hardware, the Marines will piggyback off the Army’s existing wireless hubs in its neighboring recruiting offices to access the Corps’ secure, private network.
Presently, techs are working out the glitches before giving the green light to recruiters.
“We’re in the test process right now,” said Reitz. “Obviously, it’s got to work before they get it.”