Young Recruits Join Service For Variety Of Reasons

November 07, 1990|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER - When career-minded high school students march into Army Sgt.

1st Class Bobby Knight's office, he tells them "The Army Story."

It's a story that unfolds neatly in a spiral notebook containing pages of information and glossy pictures about life in the U.S. Army. Colorful brochures explaining Army benefits, which range from thousands of dollars for college education to job security, complete the story.

"I don't know of any other employer that will offer $25,200 for a four-year enlistment," Knight said at the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Westminster.

Military benefits, especially dollars for college, are a big draw for students whose families do not have the financial resources for higher education.

"A lot of kids are primarily interested in money for college," Knight said.

But the reasons high school graduates choose the structured military over the freedom of an ivy-painted college campus or the daily grind of the working world are as varied as the recruits themselves.

"For some, the main reason is adventure," said Steve Guthrie, counseling coordinator at North Carroll High School. "It's not so much getting in a combat situation, but getting out of Carroll County. They want to get out and see the world -- get a start on their lives."

Other reasons range from family tradition -- fathers and grandfathers have held military careers -- to a resurgence in patriotism to learning skills that later can be used in the civilian market, said Walter Dyky, Westminster High School assistant principal and a longtime member of the Maryland National Guard.

On-the-job technical training in fields like electronics and computers attract a lot of high school students to the U.S. Navy and Air Force, which also offer similar incentives for higher education, said recruiters for those branches of the military.

"If you take your on-the-job training seriously, you can get a good job on the outside when your enlistment is done," said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Floyd Burleson. "We do everything the civilian market does -- from fixing toasters to satellites."

And despite the crisis in the Persian Gulf, recruiters and educators said they have not seen a change in the number of students eyeing fatigues and uniforms.

"We really haven't seen any differences," Knight said. "The Gulf crisis has not caused any fluctuations in our numbers. Kids are still primarily interested in education and job security."

On average, Knight and his staff see anywhere between three and 10 people a day.

They use the telephone to talk to another 10.

About 80 percent of the prospective recruits are male.

Guthrie estimated about 10 percent of North Carroll's graduating class enters the military.

"There's still the same number looking at the military as an option," Guthrie said. "Maybe if war does break out, it will make a difference."

The crisis, however, has provoked a lot of questions.

"We get a lot of questions but as a recruiter I really don't know too much of what is going on over there," said Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Sloskey, who recently told "The Army Story" to students at North Carroll High School.

Sloskey said for most students contemplating the military, the biggest question remains: "Do I have to get my hair cut?" (The answer is yes.) Students may not find that answer in the slew of brochures about the Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and National Guard that are available in school media centers, guidance offices, recruiting offices and other places. They will find answers about college money, job training, vacation, pay and medical benefits.

Those perplexed by the volumes of literature can pursue other avenues to help in the decision-making process. They include a school's guidance staff, parents and others who have served in one of the branches of the armed forces.

A guidance counselor is often the first choice in the process.

"For students wanting help in making a decision, I go through the decision-making process with them," Guthrie said. "We go through the pros and cons and evaluate the choices."

Guthrie, like other educators, encourages students to get their parents involved in the decision. He encourages parents and students to sit down together with recruiters.

When Dyky is approached by students considering a military career, he said he tries not to sell any particular branch.

Instead, he points out the pros and cons and also encourages students to seek advice from their parents.

Almost like a recruiter, Dyky can list the advantages to a stint or career in the military: money for college, learning high technology and computer skills, travel and job security.

Unlike a recruiter, though, Dyky also will tell the negative side.

"We, as a nation and as a society, encourage individualism," Dyky said.

"When you get in the military, you have to conform to itsstandards and its way of life. You're part of a big team and have to develop teamwork."

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