Shopping For Armed Forces In Hemet
MADELEINE BRAND, Host:
For the U.S. military, the war in Iraq has made it difficult to recruit. The Defense Department though says it exceeded or met its goals from May. That was its latest report. Many recruits these days come from small towns, towns like Hemet, California. Hemet is about 80 miles South East of Los Angeles. Reporter Gloria Hillard found a bunch of recent high school graduates at a popular shopping mall there. The shopping mall is also home to Hemet's armed forces careers center.
GLORIA HILLARD: Just across from C's Candies, a couple of mall storefronts down from Target, is a small building with dark tinted glass to cut down on the sun. There are three doors with shiny metallic emblems each signifying the branches of service, Army, Marines, and Navy. The room is packed, teens in jeans and t-shirts are comfortably slumped in chairs talking with men and women with good posture and crisp uniforms. Navy recruiter Petty Officer Sarah Drake is meeting with a lanky 18-year-old African-American.
P: Any type of tattoos? Do you have any tattoos?
U: No tattoos.
HILLARD: No tattoos. None? OK.
HILLARD: Next in Drake's interview chair is 18-year-old Emily Barges(ph). She is wearing a tank top and flip-flops and frequently re-adjusts her ponytail.
HILLARD: You asked me about the hair. The answer to the question about her hair is because once you go to boot camp, you are going to have to get it cut, like it can't go past your shoulders. OK?
HILLARD: A strict interview. The phone rings constantly. When she takes a call from another applicant, Barges turns and talks to me about her decision.
BRAND: I want to make something of my life and this gives me opportunities and just sets me up for a great future.
HILLARD: Another Navy recruiter at the center is Petty Officer Lisa Holgeen(ph). She says females prefer talking to other women in the Navy.
P: I think it gives them a sense of closeness, and they are able to understand that yes, females can go in the Navy and that we are regular people. It's a lot easier hearing it from another female than trying to have a man you know talk to them about female issues especially during boot camp and what to expect and stuff like that.
HILLARD: Fewer females enter the recruitment office for the Marine Corps right next year.
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U: Becoming a Marine is probably going to be the proudest thing that I ever do in my life.
HILLARD: But Gunnery Sergeant Matthew Woodward says it's still busy, but Marine recruiters says his day begins at seven in the morning and ends at eight o'clock at night.
S: This area is excellent. It's a community, very tight knit, very pro-military. A lot of young men and women that serve the country in all services.
HILLARD: Including the Army. Here at its offices, recruiters wear camouflage uniforms with tan boots. 19-year-old Anthony Roll graduated from high school two weeks ago. He is sporting the short buzzcut and an Army t-shirt.
BRAND: I couldn't wait until just over with school and graduated so I could get on with my Army career.
HILLARD: Roll actually enlisted when he was 17 in the delayed training program. Today, he ships to South Carolina to finish his training. On his hand is a gold ring with a blue stone that he received from graduating boot camp. He decided on the design.
BRAND: On one side, I have a picture of the grim reaper and my last name, and on the other side, I have the U.S. seal and above the U.S. seal it says one shot, one kill and around the top is says freedom isn't free.
HILLARD: Also here, finishing up some paperwork is Rolando Rayas(ph). He ships in two days.
BRAND: Hemet is such a small town there is just nothing out here. This is my real window to the world.
HILLARD: And so it went, throughout the day.
HILLARD: Oh, go ahead and sign your Social Security part.
HILLARD: Back at the Navy recruitment office, it's five o'clock and still bustling. 19-year-old Nicole Melanie(ph) looks around at the poster on the wall. The Navy, she says, offers her everything she ever wanted.
BRAND: It can give me security. It can give me adventure. It can give me so much, I'm just like, oh my gosh.
HILLARD: Although it's another month before she ships, her training has already begun. As she leaves she smiles and salutes her recruiter.
BRAND: Requesting permission to go ashore?
HILLARD: Permission granted. I have no problem. Thanks for coming in, and I'll give you a call.
HILLARD: Accompanying Melanie is her younger brother with a handful of Navy pamphlets. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
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