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Puerto Ricans Join U.S. Navy In Record Numbers

Local recruitment more than doubled in the last five years; Recruitment by other Armed Services also in the upswing

By Francisco Javier Cimadevilla

August 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Despite a relentless, three-year long, negative public opinion campaign vilifying the U.S. Navy as the devil incarnate, more than twice as many Puerto Ricans are joining its ranks today than they were before the accidental killing of David Sanes by an errant bomb in the Navy firing range in Vieques in 1998.

According to official U.S. Navy recruiting statistics for Puerto Rico, 367 volunteers with home records in Puerto Rico joined the service in fiscal year (FY) 2000, 120% more than the 168 that enlisted in 1997 prior to the civilian guard’s death at the Navy’s training facility in Vieques–a spark that unleashed a chain of events that have strained U.S.-Puerto Rico relations and whose yet uncertain outcome could have lasting political consequences for the island.

Navy recruitment in each of the last five years has outpaced recruitment the year before and has surpassed the goal set for the year anywhere between 7% and 39%. So far this federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, recruitment stands at 256, somewhat above the 250-goal at this point in the year.

U.S. Navy Recruiting Statistics (Puerto Rico)
FY-01 (through July) 250 256 102%
FY-00 325 367 113%
FY-99 247 311 126%
FY-98 198 211 107%
FY-97 121 168 139%
FY-96 149 177 119%

Not only has Navy recruitment in Puerto Rico gone up, but its importance relative to recruitment worldwide has also increased. In FY 96, non-prior service accessions from Puerto Rico–i.e. recruits with no prior service–represented 0.35% of the total recruited that year. Last year, that number went up to 0.67%.

Recruitment by other U.S. Armed Services also appears to be booming despite the tense climate in public opinion–including outright U.S. bashing by many local commentators and some politicians–stemming from the Vieques issue. The U.S. Air Force, for example, has steadily increased new annual recruitment into active duty from 172 enlisted in 1996 to 227 in 2000, a 32% increase. Recruitment by the U.S. Army–including both active duty and Army reserve recruits–has gone up by 50%, from 1,215 in 1996 to 1,817 in 2000.

Ironically, the constant bombardment of negative news stories about the Navy in the local media may be helping the Navy in its recruitment effort. "Because of the problem that we’ve been facing in Puerto Rico in the last couple of years, kids are going into the Internet to find out more information on their own. Now when we go to the schools we find out that many of the potential recruits already know a great deal about the Navy and the opportunities it offers," said Chief Petty Officer Carmen Sepulveda, a Navy Career Counselor who leads a team of 18 recruiters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Goode, chief Navy spokesperson in Puerto Rico agrees. "Young people today are incredibly intelligent and savvy. They go to the Internet. They’re going to go out to get the information for themselves. So they’re not going to be intimidated by what they read in the local press."

Chief Sepulveda admits, however, that the Navy has modified its recruitment techniques somewhat given the prevailing climate on the island. "In Mayaguez [campus of the University of Puerto Rico], for example, we go in civilian uniform," she said referring to plain clothing bearing insignia.

Although recruitment this year may be helped by rising unemployment, according to Sepulveda, herself Puerto Rican, the traditional success of the Armed Forces’ recruitment efforts on the island is due to cultural factors. "They want to enhance their education and have a good job. That’s what Puerto Ricans want. It’s part of our culture. And that’s part of what the Navy offers."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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