By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald staff writer
Nicholas Graves of Vallejo said he believes in a higher power, so,
although he knows the risks, he's joining the military anyway.
The 18-year-old said he realizes he could become the target of an
enemy bullet, but the military is a steady job with reasonable pay,
an attractive option in a bad economy.
While few local military recruiters are willing to credit the
struggling economy, they say they've seen a spike in recent years in
the number of enlistments.
The recent interest has allowed recruiters to be pickier, local Army
recruiter Drew Radke said.
"We adjust our criteria to changes that come down the road," Radke
said. "Now there are more people trying to join because of the
recession, but more aren't qualifying."
The educational and medical criteria haven't changed, but what the
Army calls its "moral criteria" has tightened, Radke said.
Young people who think they may some day want to join the Army need
to consider their actions long before that time comes, he said.
"Some people assume the military is a last choice -- a last resort --
and sometimes they do things that disqualify them from the military,"
Radke said. "They're looking more closely now at the whole person.
It's more about, 'Would I trust this person to work with me?' "
Army Reserves recruiter Sgt. Gerold Garland, who works in the Vallejo
office, said enlistment requirements are stricter.
He added, however, that there's sometimes leeway in the reserves for
those whose past behavior might bar them from regular Army service.
"Fewer non-high school graduates are getting in, partly because jobs
on the outside are getting harder to come by," Garland said. But to
those with few options, the reserves are still a viable one. It's one
reason he finds his job rewarding, he said.
"I like that we're able to give direction to people who don't know
where they're going," Garland said.
New recruit Graves said he was seeking guidance and found the Army.
"I need the discipline. And the free education sounds good," the
Vallejo Adult School student said.
Ignacio Molina, 19, of Vallejo, was a Mare Island Technology Academy
senior with plenty of options when he enlisted. "I'm joining the Army
because I've wanted to for a long time," Molina said. "I love a
challenge. I have family members in the Army and I'm continuing the legacy."
Neither youth expressed concern about getting hurt as soldiers.
"Everything happens for a reason," Molina said.
American Canyon City Councilman Ed West, whose 19-year-old son
Phillip was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, said the number of
young people opting for the military has grown so significantly, most
are turned away.
"I understand that more people are interested in joining the service
because they can see the value in the opportunity, especially with
the weak economy," West said. "But I understand (the Army) only takes
about 3 percent of applicants. Not everyone qualifies."
Carrie Chandler, an 18-year-old Vallejo High School junior, and the
single mother of 11/2-year-old Caraleigha, enlisted in December. "I
always wanted to join the Army Reserves," she said. "It's exciting
for me and I finally have a chance to do it."
Chandler, who signed up to be a supply sergeant, said her brother and
sister have agreed to care for her daughter while she's away in
training or deployment. She said she hopes her work in the military
may some day translate into a retail career.
Radke and Garland said signing bonuses, which range from $10,000 to
$40,000 depending on the job, have always been an effective
recruiting tool. Recruits also can get more than $80,000 for college,
Travis Air Force Base Tech Sgt. Donald Osborn said most of the time
there's a "transition period" between signing up and getting started
that is tied to the recruit's chosen field. The lag time can be up to
a year, he said.
"It has to do with what the recruit wants to be trained in and when
there will be room in that technical school," he said.
While enlistment criteria has tightened some since the recession took
hold, the U.S. Air Force has never had problems getting people to
join, Vallejo's recruiter Erica Johnson said.
"In the five years I've been recruiting, the goals have increased,
but we continue to find the quality young men and women we're looking
for," U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason Petersen said.
The Air Force offers few signing bonuses. "It's not something we have
to do to recruit," he said.
California National Guard recruiter Sgt. Brian White, who works in
the Fairfield office, said enlistment is up and some criteria have
tightened, but this likely has more to do with patriotism than the
recession. He said more members are choosing to stay in the service
and the maximum sign-up age was lowered in April from 42 to 35.
Higher entrance test scores are also required now, he said.
"Many of these kids are right out of high school and they want to
serve their county," added National Guard spokesman Jon Guibord.
"Recruitment's been up since 9/11."
A local Coast Guard recruiter who declined to reveal his name, said
his service branch is also seeing more people wanting in, and fewer
leaving once their tours are up.
"There's a huge amount of interest now, and I understand that nine
out of 10 are choosing to stay in," he said. "I hear it's higher than
The Coast Guard 's maximum enlistment age of 27 hasn't changed, but
some criteria have gotten tougher. "They've raised the minimum test
score at the beginning of this fiscal year," he said. "They've gotten
The signing bonus the Coast Guard once offered also was discontinued
a couple of months ago in the Bay Area recruiting station, though
this recruiter said he doesn't know if this is true elsewhere.
Kelly Walker of Tracy, 24, serves in the Coast Guard at the Vallejo
Station. She said she's been with the Coast Guard about 11/2 years.
"I was living in Florida, bartending, and that got old fast," Walker
said to explain why she joined the Coast Guard. "I had done Sea
Cadets as a kid and really liked that, and I wanted to find a career."
Walker said she considered the Navy, but settled on the Coast Guard
and has not regretted her decision. She said she especially enjoys
the search and rescue and law enforcement aspects of the job.
"I'm glad I joined when I did. I have a roommate who lost her job and
that's an eye-opener," she added. "Compared to people trying to hack
it in the real world, this is great."
Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at 553-6824 or
RachelZ@thnewsnet.com.Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at
553-6824 or RachelZ@thnewsnet.com.