Armed-forces recruiters face formidable enemy-parents

FAMILY MATTERS Susan Reimer

February 27, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

THE MARINE CORPS fell slightly short of its recruiting goal last month, the first time that has happened in nearly a decade. But it was not for want of trying, because the phone was ringing in my house.

I got two calls from Marine recruiters last month, and they went something like this.

"Evening, ma'am. Is Jessica available?"

"No, I am sorry, she's not. Can I take a message?"

I wasn't surprised by the call for my college-student daughter. People are still calling her to baby-sit, and she's been gone since August.

"This Marine Staff Sgt. Somethingorother from the Marine recruiting office," he said. "Could you arrange for me to speak to her?"

"Oh," I said, slightly startled. "Jessie is in college."

I punctuated my response with a nervous little laugh, and I thought that would kind of settle things. But Staff Sgt. Somethingorother only paused briefly before continuing.

"Oh. How is that going?"

I didn't think he wanted to hear about the time her laundry disappeared from the dryer and she had to call campus police. I didn't think he wanted to hear about how her lacrosse team had to get up at dawn on a Sunday morning to clean the bleachers in the football stadium, so I just said, "Fine."

It suddenly occurred to me that he was hoping Jessie was finding college a terrible disappointment and was on her way home to enlist in the Marines.

"I am sorry," I said, again laughing nervously. "Have you met Jessie?"

"No, Ma'am," he said.

"Well, before this goes any further, you should know that Jessie would never consider an occupation that required her to wear the same outfit every day, let alone an outfit of someone else's choosing."

"Ma'am?" he said.

"Never mind," I said. "Thank you for calling. Good luck with your recruiting."

The next night, the phone rang again.

"Evening ma'am. Is Joseph available?"

Oh, no, I thought. Here we go again.

"No, he is not. Can I take a message?"

"Ma'am, this is Marine Staff Sgt. Reallyflatstomach of the Marine recruiting office. Could you arrange for me to speak to him?"

Exasperated, I said, "Don't you people in the armed services talk to each other? Joseph is at the Naval Academy."

I thought that would settle things, but the Marine recruiter only paused before saying, "Oh. How is that going?"

I didn't think he wanted to hear me say that it depended on your point of view. If you wanted your son to be a military officer and go to war, you could say that things are going well.

However, if you wanted your son to graduate from an Ivy League school and take up the much less hazardous life of, say, a stockbroker, then, no, things are not going according to plan.

But all I said was, "Fine."

Then I added, "You are likely to see Joe before I do. Tell him his mother says, `Hi.' "

Things must have been getting desperate at the Marine recruiting office because it called my friend Betsy about her son, Jeff, a high school senior.

God bless Jeff, but if the enemy offered him dinner at a Chinese restaurant or at a rib joint, it would be all over for our country. Jeff is a wrestler and he is usually cutting weight. Food comes to have special meaning for wrestlers.

Anyway, Jeff came home from school and told his mother that a Marine recruiter had visited his class and because nobody else had raised their hands when he asked for individual meetings with the students, Jeff had raised his.

"I felt bad for him," Jeff told his mother, his voice rising defensively. That's another reason why we don't want Jeff defending our borders. He feels sorry for everybody.

Jeff didn't have to do much talking to persuade his mother to take the call from the Marine recruiter.

"Over my dead body," she said into the phone. The recruiter didn't even get the chance to ask, "So, how is that going?"

The Marine Corps fell slightly short of its recruiting goal in January, the first month that has happened in nearly a decade.

Officials blamed reluctant parents.

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