By STEVEN WARD
Jun 7, 2008
Aaron Salazar has wanted to be a soldier since he was a little boy.
So when the 16-year-old Robstown, Texas, resident spotted Louisiana
Army National Guard soldiers and a military Humvee in the Mall of
Louisiana on Friday, Salazar stopped to talk.
"I want to explore the world and travel. I want to get out to meet
people," Salazar said after talking with one of the Baton Rouge-based
And Salazar is well-aware of overseas current affairs.
His uncle, a U.S. Army soldier, died in Iraq two years ago when a
bomb detonated near a vehicle in which he was a passenger.
"It doesn't bother me," Salazar said when asked about the possibility
of being deployed while there are wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Right now I'm kind of …. 'no' about it all. But I want to support
him; and when he turns 18, it's up to him," Salazar's mother, Gabby
Salazar and Espinoza said they hope the wars are over by the time
Salazar hits 18 and joins the military.
Salazar, on vacation in Baton Rouge, is exactly the type of young man
Louisiana National Guard members are hoping visit their information
blitz at the mall this weekend.
Sgt. 1st Class Brady B. Benton, a Baton Rouge-based Louisiana
National Guard recruiter for the 769th Engineer Battalion, said the
presence of guardsmen at the mall today and Sunday is more of an
"awareness" event than a recruiting event.
"People in Baton Rouge know about us but we really want to show and
educate the people here about what it is we actually do," Benton, 40, said.
Benton has been recruiting for two years in Baton Rouge, and spent
time in Iraq when he was deployed there in 2004.
"It's actually been a little easier now to recruit because the war
has not been in the media as much. Right now, everything is Obama and
Hillary," Benton said.
Benton said some prospective recruits ask about the wars and the
possibility of going there, while others don't mention the conflicts.
But Benton said the war is always the first question out of a parent's mouth.
"And depending on the person's job, I tell people there is always a
possibility of being deployed," Benton said.
The 769th Engineer Battalion will have about a dozen soldiers at the
mall today and Sunday from all five companies that make up the
battalion: soldiers from Baton Rouge, Baker, Gonzales, Denham Springs
The soldiers, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Staff Sgt.
Denis Ricou said, will be available to answer questions about
benefits, educational scholarships, bonuses, college tuition
exemption and career advancement.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Martin, 30, of the Baton Rouge-based 927th Combat
Engineering Company, was the soldier who spoke with Salazar.
"I knew from the get-go that he (Salazar) had a strong desire to be
part of the military," Martin said.
Martin, a seven-year Louisiana National Guard veteran, comes from a
long line of veterans.
His great-grandfather fought in World War I, his grandfather fought
in World War II, he had an uncle fight in Korea and two uncles fight
Martin was deployed to Afghanistan.
"The military is not for everyone. So when I can talk to someone who
has an interest in it, it's always more enjoyable for me," Martin said.
Benton said he has a recruiting goal of 200 in the Baton Rouge area
to get by Sept. 3. Right now, he said, he is half way there.
"It's an easy sell with all the benefits and money. We are hoping to
get 100 or so people a day this weekend to visit with us," Benton said.