By Jorge GomezDecember 15, 2011
MILWAUKEE -- A Soldier asked the Milwaukee Recruiting Battalion Advertising & Public Affairs office whether his recruiting station could assist a school's charity drive. The assistance was in the form of raising awareness through fliers and collecting items on behalf of the drive by becoming a drop-off location.
The Soldier said this would help recruiters build rapport with faculty and gain greater access to students. The intent of the Soldier to support a charity run by a local high school is well. Providing that kind of support could result in a better relationship with the school. So what is the problem?
First, the assistance selectively benefits one group over others like it. The recruiting station, which is publicly funded, must be willing to provide equal support to comparable events, according to Army Regulation 360-1, Chapter 3-2.
"We cannot be seen as asking the public for donations or money since we are paid/funded through the federal government budget," said Capt. Brendan Cronin, 3rd Recruiting Brigade judge advocate.
Secondly, the group in question is running a charity and the Army cannot endorse or appear to endorse any fundraising activity, according to the same regulation cited.
Soldier cannot participate in fundraising activities in an official capacity nor use government property for the same purpose. But regulations do not prevent Soldiers from such activities in their private capacity or with their personal resources.
"They just can't appear in uniform or use their position as a Soldier to influence people to donate," Cronin said.
Voluntary service is one of the best things a Soldier can do to make a difference and earn the respect of the community, said 1st Sgt. Anthony Richter, Iron Mountain Recruiting Company.
He suggests serving at hospitals, churches, or civic organizations in addition to schools. Soldiers can volunteer as referees, hold positions in a PTA, mentor kids as big brothers or big sisters, even cut wood for disabled people.
In his personal capacity, Richter has involved his children at charitable events to help serve breakfast and wash dishes.
"Word eventually leaks out to the community about what you are doing. People will see you are making a personal sacrifice to help others. This is how you make yourself known in a community," Richter said.
What he advises Soldiers may sound like a paradox but he insists his experience shows it is practical.
"Do something with no expectation and you will get more in return," he said.
Volunteer service should not be performed in uniform because people might question the integrity of such service.
"Don't be concerned about announcing that you an Army recruiter. Your community service may get dismissed as a form of public relations. As long as your work is genuine, you will make a difference and that makes your job as a recruiter easier in the long run," Richter said.
Many organizations that help people are tightening budgets and laying off personnel. That leads to a greater demand for volunteers.
"Opportunities abound for Soldiers who wish to make an impact in their community because people are the most valuable resource," Richter said.
Soldiers are also leaders with exceptional life experiences.
"They can offer to talk to college freshman about setting goals and achieving success," Richter said.
A college instructor in Iron Mountain invited the first sergeant to have that talk with freshman in October. Richter's goal was to establish himself as a source of knowledge and expertise, given his experience in the Army.
At the time, Bay West College was considered a hard to penetrate school. Now they have built new and promising relationships due to a willingness to help a freshman class with no expectation in return, Richter said.
Every Soldier will encounter a different challenge as he tries to make a personal impact in his community. Richter insists that regardless of the recruiting environment his principle applies.
"Getting involved in a personal capacity resonates with the community in a deeper way than anything comparable to official Army support," Richter said. "My experience has shown me how people value a well-meaning individual who gives selflessly."
In the case of the Soldier who wondered whether his station could support a school drive, the response from APA was that the recruiters should direct their supporting efforts in a personal capacity off duty and out of uniform. Personal involvement lends greater credibility and that has a better chance of making a community difference.