Wesley G. Hughes, Staff Writer
When times get tough, the tough put on a uniform and pick up a gun.
No. Make that a weapon or a rifle. A gun in military lingo means
cannon, something too heavy for even a tough GI to lift.
The Army has a little verse of doggerel that they use to teach young
recruits the difference but it's a little too off-color for a family
newspaper. Ask your Uncle Charlie.
Sometimes the weapon they pick up is a computer, maybe a wrench or
the video game-like controls of one of dozens of UAV's, unmanned
aerial vehicles, like the Predator, the Warrior or the Vigilante,
that are sent into combat by a pilot, who could be 7,000 miles away.
Or possibly a frying pan and a chef's hat or ammo to feed a 155 mm
howitzer in a field artillery unit.
Back to the hard times. With Inland Empire unemployment hovering
above 10 percent, that's more than one out of every 10 in the
unemployment lines and a number of others are stuck in part-time or
low-paying jobs they are overqualified for, a few years in the
military begins to sound better and better.
Despite the hard times the big reason for enlisting in the Army is
still patriotism, says Sgt. 1st Class Osmil Sazon, acting station
commander at the Army recruiting office in San Bernardino. Heartening news.
Each of the services that responded to calls for information on
enlistments chose to downplay the economy and enhance the qualities
of enlistees. Sazon said, "We have a lot of patriotic people here.
They come seeking occupational enhancement or experience or they want
to be a leader. We have a lot of gung ho men coming in."
The Air Force, so far, has not felt the impact of the economy on
enlistments, said Christa D'Andrea, chief of public affairs for the
Air Force Recruiting Service. "There is increased interest but no
significant increase in enlistments," D'Andrea said.
Navy spokesman Petty Officer First Class David Mckee said he had no
specific numbers on enlistments in the Inland Empire. "Obviously,
when the economy is in a downturn, some people who wouldn't have
normally considered the Navy as a first choice do think again about
the opportunity to serve and we eagerly encourage that," McKee said.
The Marine Corps did not respond to repeated calls seeking information.
Sazon says he seeks recruits who are physically, mentally and morally
fit. The age range is broad, from 17 with parental permission up to
42 years old.
Another bit of good news for the enlistees is that there are some
interesting inducements in the pay and benefits category.
A recruit, who hasn't completed basic training is paid $1,245.90 a
month. Not bad. When this reporter was in that bracket well past half
a century ago, the pay was $60 a month. At the beginning of World War
II, it started at $21.
Pay for a staff sergeant with 10 years service today is almost $3,000
a month and a sergeant major, the top enlisted grade is almost $5,000
and there are a host of benefits on top of that, such as food,
housing, medical care, recreation, low prices in the commissary or
the post exchange. It's a lot more than the "3 hots and a cot"
soldiers used to call it.
On top of that, it's possible to negotiate a signing bonus of up to $40,000.
And a soldier can complete a college education, while on active duty.
Sazon did. Degrees are available from such well known schools as
Central Michigan University, St. Leo's, the University of Maryland,
Texas Tech or others. There are centers right on base where classes
are offered. The GI Bill offers four years of college when you get out.
Sazon, whose MOS (military occupation specialty) is pharmacy
technician, is proud of his work as a recruiter. Since October, he
has enlisted 18 men and women.
He has a pledge that he tells potential recruits, "Catch me one time
lying to you and I will book you a hotel room and I will pay for it."
The sergeant has been in San Bernardino for 2 years. He supervisors
eight other recruiters, all sergeants and above. The 27-year-old
Sazon has been in the Army almost nine years and in the San
Bernardino post for 2 . He was born and raised in the Philippines and
moved to Guam when he was 14. He finished high school there and
decided to enlist in his senior year. His duty assignments have
carried him to Germany, Atlanta, Ga., and now California.
Four of Sazon's recruiters were in the office on Friday. Staff Sgt.
Faheed Alajmi, 27, of El Paso, Texas, who says his MOS,
reconnaissance, is the best; Sgt. Willie Foster, 26, of Gaffney,
S.C., is a cargo specialist; Staff Sgt. Rubette Riggins, 42, of Los
Angeles has 11 years on active duty, six years in the Army Reserve
and two years in the National Guard, says her MOS is supply, a
specialty all the others can't do without, she said with a grin; and
Sgt. Dean Radonte, 28, of Charleston, S.C. Airborne artillery is his
Alajmi fervently described the Army as a brotherhood, something that
can't be found on the outside in civilian life.