First recruits of 2000 answer call in Elkridge

Military: Two 22-year-olds, from White Hall and Stevensville, become the century's first U.S. military inductees when they're sworn into the Air Force.

January 04, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Jason W. Kaun has been something of a dabbler since high school.

He studied criminal justice and business at Champlain College in Vermont and Harford Community College, but dropped out. He ran his own business selling "sandfleas" -- or novelty items -- at a mall kiosk and used the proceeds to spend several weeks in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He toted golf clubs at an Aberdeen golf course and helped his folks with the family-run sign-making business.

Yesterday, he pledged the next four years of his life to a more steady job -- with the U.S. military.

At 0900 hours -- 9 a.m. civilian time -- at the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station in Elkridge, Kaun of White Hall and Ryan S. Watson of Stevensville were sworn in to serve in the Air Force, the first two military recruits of 2000 in the United States.

"I'm not really nervous," said Kaun, 22, hours before leaving for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where he will spend six weeks. "I'm anxious. I'm excited."

With yesterday's swearing-in, presided over by Undersecretary Carol A. DiBattiste, the Air Force launched an aggressive campaign to overcome its recent difficulty attracting -- and retaining -- recruits.

DiBattiste, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1971 out of high school, blamed the military's recruitment problems on a "robust economy."

"The economy is excellent," she said in an interview. "Everyone is competing for the same people."

The Air Force aims to recruit and enlist 34,000 men and women this year. In 1999, the Air Force enlisted 32,100 people -- 1,700 short of its goal, DiBattiste said.

Watson, 22, whose father spent more than two decades in the Army, studied criminal justice at Chesapeake Community College but did not graduate. Frustrated with efforts to find a job in the police field, he enlisted in the Air Force for six years and hopes to become a military policeman.

"I've always wanted to do police work in a police agency," said Watson, whose family and fiancee, Brandy Kline, 21, attended the swearing-in.

The Air Force's focus on recruitment and retention will take several forms.

By March, it will increase to 1,209 its number of recruiters, compared with 800 at the same time last year, DiBattiste said. By March of 2001, the number of recruiters will increase again by 300.

The Air Force will bolster its public relations effort with ads on network, syndicated and cable TV shows -- the first time in years it has used that medium -- and during movie theater previews. This year's Air Force budget includes $58 million for advertising, primarily targeted at those ages 18 to 24, DiBattiste said.

In addition, the Air Force plans to provide more training for its recruiters and possibly offer increased enlistment bonuses for "critical skills" positions, such as combat controllers and mechanics.

Other incentives include tuition reimbursement and a 4.8 percent pay raise that went into effect Saturday.

Kaun, whose mother, Pat, needed a tissue to contain her pride yesterday, decided about a year ago that he wanted to join the military.

His older brother, Robert, served in the Air Force; his father, Rolan, served in the Army. Kaun will be trained to perform maintenance on F-15 fighter jets.

DiBattiste called the country's newest airmen "two of our finest people."

"I'm proud to serve with you," DiBattiste said.

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