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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Aug. 9) - Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), described as the "Army recruiters’ paradise," are the most convenient hunting grounds to put people in uniform because these territories have limited economic opportunities, according to the Aug. 5 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Tribune cited a report by the National Priorities Project, which showed that Army enlistment by young men and women from "three of the nation’s poorest territories" more than doubled from 2004 to 2006.

Airman Christine Martinez, public information officer for the Guam Army National Guard, identified six "top reasons" that spur Guam residents’ interests in enlistment: educational benefits, financial incentives, career opportunities and progression, patriotism, and military benefits such as access to the commissary and BX/PX privileges and gas purchase on base, where prices of commodities are a lot less.

"It’s very clear what is going on," the Salt Lake Tribune quoted NPP research director Anita Dancs as saying. "Because of the war in Iraq, the Army hasn’t recruited as many youths as it needs, so it’s becoming more aggressive, focusing on youth with limited economic opportunities."

With a combined population of about 315,000, Guam, the CNMI and American Samoa recruited 333 new soldiers into the Army and Army Reserve in 2006, according to NPP, a nonprofit project that collects the recruitment data each year.

"By comparison, the entire state of Utah, which has a population eight times greater and whose residents are among the top supporters of the war in Iraq -- enlisted 498 new soldiers in the same year," the Salt Lake Tribune said.

The Army had nine recruiters in Guam last year -- about one for every 4,000 recruiting-age residents on the island.

Martinez said the average age of recruits on Guam is between 18 and 34 years old, most of whom are high school graduates. While dismissing the perception that successful recruitment efforts in the poor territories are linked solely to their dismal economies, Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Fort Knox-based Army Recruiting Command, acknowledged that financial opportunities play a role in many recruits’ decision to sign up.

"There is a combination of factors playing out. But obviously, in the areas that have a high unemployment rate or lack of opportunities, the military probably does better," the Tribune quoted Smith as saying.

The three territories, according to the NPP report, are among the areas with the highest war-related death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The rate of death for American Samoan service members in the nation’s ongoing wars is more than 10 times higher than the national average, according to Pentagon data. Guam and the Marianas also have death rates that, like their enlistment rates, are many times higher than any U.S. state," the Tribune said.

"Yet," the Tribune added, "the number of Army recruits from Samoa nearly tripled between 2004 and 2006. And recruiters on the island appear to be making 2007 a banner year -- even as the Navy, Air Force and Marines are all expanding their recruiting efforts on the island in response to the Army’s successes."

As of September 2006, the budget for military recruiting exceeds US$4 billion per year, including US$1.5 billion in advertising and maintaining the recruiting stations, and the pay and benefits of more than 22,000 military recruiters. Enlistment bonuses in the active-duty Army alone amounted to US$166 million.

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