EAST ORANGE, N.J. - The five United States Army recruiters who work from a storefront office here arrived on the morning of Feb. 5 to discover that a plate-glass window above the main entrance had been shattered, along with a window in the Navy office next door.
But for the men on the other side of the broken glass, and recruiters throughout the New York area, the vandalism here underscored what they say are the risks of signing up young people for the military during a war that has polarized the American public.
The shattering of windows here followed two similar incidents in New York City and a third in the Midwest that week. On Jan. 31, authorities said, recruiters at a station near the Flatiron section of Manhattan reported that a door had been cracked, and that anarchist symbols had been scrawled in red paint on the building.
A day later in Toledo, Ohio, a bucket of manure was thrown at the window of a recruiting station that housed all four branches of the military, the police said, and antiwar obscenities were scrawled on a nearby wall.
Since the beginning of 2003, there have also been more than a dozen other often violent incidents aimed at military recruiters or property throughout the country, according to the police, recruiters and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In a few cases, vehicles have been set on fire; in others, blood has been thrown through windows. Spokespeople for the armed services have downplayed the incidents even as some recruiters have increased security at their stations.
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., said that no recruiters had been hurt and that most of the nation's nearly 1,700 Army recruiting stations had not been harmed or attacked.
"We're aware that there are some instances of damage to stations, and we're keeping an eye on this," he said. "But it is not something that has us overly concerned."
Several recruiters in the field, however, said that they remained on edge. On Jan. 20, the day of President Bush's inaugural, several hundred students at Seattle Central Community College surrounded two Army recruiters on campus, shouting insults and hurling water bottles until the recruiters were escorted away by campus security. The protest was covered by The Army Times, and several recruiters said that they feared such situations might become more common.
Sgt. First Class William C. Howard, a recruiter here in East Orange, said that the antiwar sentiment seemed to have grown more aggressive. Though recruiters are still frequently thanked for their service, he said, the insults, dirty looks and other signs of discontent seem to be increasing.
On edge? Given that their job is to convince other people to go off and kill or be killed I'd say being on edge is getting off easy.