Noncitizensoldiers in US Ranks Immigrants Boost Recruiting, but Raise Concerns about Aforeign- Legion Military

Article excerpt

As he walks the sandy ridges and pine barrens of his mammoth training base, Col. Jack Carter notices something different about his new recruits. Many of them are from Germany, Mexico, Russia - even Jamaica.

The new faces under the Kevlar helmets symbolize a subtle but significant shift in America's armed forces - one that is helping fill depleted ranks, and raising new concerns about the makeup of tomorrow's military.

Throughout the armed forces, noncitizens with legal US status accounted for about 7,500 of the new recruits in 1997, according to the Navy Times. In the Army alone, the number of immigrants donning fatigues has risen from 2,200 in 1995 to 3,100 last year. Immigrant soldiers, signing up at a time when all the services are struggling to find new members, are making the difference between a difficult and a disastrous recruiting year. They are also raising sensitive questions about whether the Pentagon is creating a new caste system in the military - in effect, heading toward a foreign legion protecting US citizens. "I don't think {there's} any effort to recruit foreign nationals," says Colonel Carter, chief of staff at Fort Jackson, the Army's largest training base here. "But many show up on our doorstep looking for opportunity." For now, the percentage of noncitizens joining the Army is still relatively small. In 1998, the figure was 4.2 percent, up just slightly from 1997. Army commanders often praise the work ethic of immigrants, noting that many are motivated and patriotic as new converts to American democracy. For example, Carter says about 10 of his base's recent "soldiers of the week" are foreign nationals. Many newcomers also view the US military as benevolent peacekeepers - doing good on the world stage. "I recruited in the Philippines for a number of years, and they see us as the good guys," says Frank Shaffery, chief of plans and policy for Army recruiting at Fort Knox, Ky. He says they often see the armed forces as "something that is structured, something with security, and something that has a positive image in their life." Still, the idea of immigrants shouldering M16s doesn't thrill everyone. …