Sunday, February 1, 2009

No job? The armed services want you

No job? The armed services want you

The military is racking up recruits as promise of a steady paycheck trumps combat fear.

By Martha Quillin
Posted: Monday, Feb. 02, 2009
More Information
Who can join?

The U.S. armed services take only U.S. citizens and legal residents. Only the Army National Guard accepts single parents who are the legal guardians of their children. No branch takes applicants with more than two dependents under age 18.

Waivers are required for applicants with a convictions for serious criminal offenses. The military tests for drugs. The Army accepts the most prospects without a high school diploma; all branches require aptitude tests..
RALEIGH If he enlisted in the Army today, there's a good chance Jonathan Barron would be deployed to a combat zone by Christmas. Still, in this economy, the military looks to him like the safest place to be.

“I'm scared to death,” Barron said last week after taking an Army qualifications pre-test at a Raleigh recruitment center.

It's not the possibility of being shot at that frightens him; it's that, at 24, with a high-school diploma and nearly three years of college, he can't find a job.

The one he had, selling suits at a shop for $7 an hour, ended last week when S&K Menswear closed the store.

As civilian jobs get scarcer by the week, recruiters say interest in the military is up. Recruiters are not only seeing more applicants, but more of them have at least a high-school diploma and many, a college degree.

All branches of service met or exceeded recruitment goals in fiscal 2008, the first year they have done so since 2002, the Defense Department says. The trend continued through October, November and December, the first quarter of fiscal 2009, and is expected to hold when January figures are tallied.

The Army had to lower its admission standards in recent years, taking in more applicants who lack a high-school diploma. At the same time, the Army's missions in Iraq and Afghanistan require forces who can react quickly to changing situations. If soldiers looking for illegal weapons at a home encounter women and children, for example, will they know how to proceed without committing a cultural offense that could make the situation worse?

“Creative thinkers”

“In the operational environment we're in now ... it's critical to have those kinds of creative thinkers,'' said Col. George Sterling, commander of the Army's Raleigh Recruiting Battalion, responsible for recruitment across two-thirds of North Carolina.

The U.S. Department of Defense can't say what percentage of the increased traffic at recruitment centers is because of job losses. People might be responding to enlistment bonuses that can reach $40,000, a better G.I. Bill that will help pay for college and up to $65,000 to pay off existing student loans.

Adding to the appeal of joining now is the reduction in violence in Iraq and the possibility of U.S. forces withdrawing from that country in a year or two.

North Carolina, home to the Army's Fort Bragg, the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, is a perennial powerhouse for the military.

Military-friendly state

In fiscal 2008, North Carolina had the nation's ninth-highest rate of enlistment among residents aged 17 to 24, according to the Massachusetts-based National Priorities Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the impact of federal policies on local communities.

Sterling said that in some communities, the best recruitment tool may be the neighbor in the nicer home, driving the newer car and wearing the Army uniform.

When she gets out, that soldier will get preference in applying for federal jobs, be eligible for home-loan guarantees and Veterans Affairs medical care and, when she dies, be buried in a national cemetery if she chooses.

But even in times of war, the military doesn't take all comers.

Applicants must be at least 17 years old. The top age limits vary by branch and whether the prospective recruit served before; the Army generally turns down anyone older than 42 who has no service history. Pay varies widely, depending on rank and years of experience, and pay can be augmented by hazardous-duty or combat pay and allowances for housing and other expenses. A new private in basic training would earn about $1,300 a month in base pay, an officer several times that.

The promise of travel that comes with enlistment is enticing to some, a hardship for others.

The stresses of combat exposure are well-known and can have lasting effects on a soldier's mental health. The Army announced last week that the suicide rate in 2008 was the highest in 30 years.

When the military doesn't meet its recruitment goals, it can set up a costly cycle: more frequent deployments for those in the service, resulting in higher turnover that requires more recruitment.

Barron's Plan B

Jonathan Barron didn't need to hear the pitch. An Air Force brat, he had considered joining the military after graduating from Garner High School in 2002.

“I always said if the draft came back, I wouldn't avoid it,” Barron said. “But I don't want to be a bullet-catcher, either.”

Instead, he decided to study graphics at the School of Communication Arts in Raleigh, but he had to leave before he got his degree. He and a friend started a lawn-care business.

When that failed, he went back to S&K, where he had worked before, using a sense of style he developed while living in Europe when his dad was in the service.

By the end of January, S&K was only empty chrome fixtures and red and orange “EVERYTHING MUST GO,” signs, including Barron. He worked his last shift the same day he took the Army's pre-test.

He said he planned to sharpen his math skills before taking the final test, hoping for to a multimedia specialty. He was leaning toward enlisting, with a plan to ship to basic training later this year.

“Growing up, I used to take some of my dad's clothes and tape them up so they'd fit me,” he said, looking sharp in his 42-long Roberto Fellini suit. "You know, playing Army. This would be for real.”


Military service is a good place to work, it has great benefits and not all soldiers end up with PTSD, if many of the soldiers would get counseling appointments upon return from combat assignments many of the symptoms of PTSD could be handled and dealt with.

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