In Down Economy, Job Hunt Leads To The Military As the nation's unemployment rate climbs, many Americans are considering military service. For the first time since 2006, the military is meeting or exceeding its recruitment goals. Tony Cox speaks with a recruiting commander and a prospective soldier.

In Down Economy, Job Hunt Leads To The Military

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TONY COX, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. Tough times call for tough choices. For some people in this difficult economy, job hunting has led them to a new direction: the military. For the first time since 2004, the military is meeting or exceeding its recruitment goals. In a few moments, we're going to talk to a young man who just signed up for service. But right now, we turn to Douglas Smith. He is a spokesperson for the United States Army Recruiting Command. Hello, Douglas. Welcome to News & Notes.

Mr. DOUGLAS SMITH (Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Army Recruiting Command): Hi, Tony. Thank you for having me on.

COX: Over the last few years, Army recruiting has had varied success. What has happened to recruitment efforts that has made them so successful of late?

Mr. SMITH: Well, first of all, I'd like to correct something that you said. We have achieved our recruiting goals every year beginning with fiscal year 2006, and that success does continue. Now, we're four months into fiscal year 2009, and that level of success continues.

COX: And the reason for that?

Mr. SMITH: Hard work by nearly 9,000 Army recruiters across the country, and of course, the willingness of young American men and women to consider service in the Army.

COX: What about the economy? Is that a factor, as we were suggesting in our intro to you?

Mr. SMITH: Oh, I am certain that the change in the economy has had an impact, and I think a recruiter could talk to you firsthand about their experience. However, we don't have any measurement on exactly how much of our success is due to the recent economic changes.

COX: Do you think, though, that the uptick in the number of recruits began before the recession really turned sour?

Mr. SMITH: It's very hard to say. Again, we're talking in the context of recruiting success of our - coming in above our goals every year since 2006. We do think that we had our best October through December that we've had in quite a few years. But again, I don't have any way to put a number to how many of those enlistments came because of the economy.

COX: Do you have a way of telling us who these people are, something about them, who are signing up?

Mr. SMITH: I think if you're speaking to a recruiter about this, they can give you firsthand statements on it. I've seen news reports myself of where our recruiters have talked about former stock brokers and people with other kinds of occupations who have turned to the Army after the economic impact.

COX: Has the military, or the Army, in particular, changed in any way its recruiting campaign as a result of these increased numbers of people signing up?

Mr. SMITH: No, I'm not aware of any changes to our campaign. We hope that our campaign speaks in broad terms to a wide variety of audiences about what the Army has to offer.

COX: Are you able to say that there are people who are already enlisted who are re-upping and are staying longer, as well as new numbers of people who are coming in?

Mr. SMITH: You know, that's outside the recruiting command's area, but I have seen news reports of soldiers who were reenlisting and mentioning the economy as a good reason to stay in.

COX: Well, Douglas, I appreciate your coming on. I know that you said that many of the answers that we need we have to turn to our recruiter to get them. Luckily for us, we have our recruiter sitting right here. We're going to do that right now. So, let me thank you once again for coming on with us.

Mr. SMITH: Well, thank you for having us on.

COX: That was Douglas Smith, a spokesperson for the United States Army Recruiting Command, talking about Army recruiting on a national level. So, now, we turn to a story about local recruiting here in California. Joining us, Captain Yahmin Norwood, an Army recruiting commander from the San Fernando Valley, which is part of the city of Los Angeles, and Javan Page, a recent Army recruit, who is sitting here in the studio with me. Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. JAVAN PAGE (Army Recruit): Thank you.

Captain YAHMIN NORWOOD (Army Recruiting Commander, San Fernando Valley, California): Thank you.

COX: OK. It's OK to say thank you. OK, Commander, let's start with you. We heard Douglas say that you're the person with the answers about people signing up. So what is it that is driving people to sign up, in your experience, in your recruiting office?

Capt. NORWOOD: Well, particularly in my recruiting office, a lot of things that come up despite the troubling times in the economy, a lot are money for college. There's a lot of things that the military has to offer that a lot of parents don't realize what benefits the military has to offer. Once they're informed, the biggest thing as a recruiter is that, as recruiters like myself and many other recruiters out there, they have to get the parents involved on what the benefits are for their children, because, you know, based on the economy, some families don't have the opportunity to pay, you know, money for college for their children to go to school. So the military is definitely a good advantage, and also, it can set the foundation for their child for a stepping stone for job experience.

COX: All right, let's talk to Javan about this. Javan, you're sitting across from me. You're a strapping young man. How old are you?

Mr. PAGE: I'm 19.

COX: Nineteen. You signed up?

Mr. PAGE: Yes, sir.

COX: Tell me why you did that.

Mr. PAGE: I mainly did it for school, because growing up - growing up, I wasn't really given much of an option. So...

COX: So what are you expecting? You say you did it for school. So tell us what it is you're expecting the Army to do for you by you signing up?

Mr. PAGE: To help me get to college at least.

COX: OK. Now, are you interested in going - are you - not interested - are you concerned about what you'll have to do prior to being able to go to college while you're in the service?

Mr. PAGE: Not really. Not at all.

COX: Have you and your parents discussed it?

Mr. PAGE: Yes, sir.

COX: And what was your parents' point of view when you told them, or they suggested to you - I'm not sure how it went down - that you and the Army night be a good fit?

Mr. PAGE: My mom just smiled and just said, I'm proud of you. And that was it.

COX: And that was it?

Mr. PAGE: Yes, sir.

COX: Are you finding that young people like Javan primarily want to go, Commander, into the services as he said, because of school, or is it also for financial reasons? Because we said at the top of the show that a number of people who are enlisting, from the reports we get, are doing so because the job market is so poor, and this is a place to make a living.

Capt. NORWOOD: I think a lot of it depends on the individual's needs and wants. For example, I had a applicant who wanted to go reserve - wanted to do the reserve component, which in layman's terms means to be a part-time soldier. And meanwhile, he ended up - he ended up getting his wife pregnant and decided, hey, you know, I don't want to do it part-time anymore, I want to see if I can go active. So in his particular case, he felt by him switching from reserve to active was something that he needed to do in his life because he was starting a new family.

COX: Now, I talked to - I asked Douglas a few moments ago whether or not people who were enlisted were re-upping, and you had a reaction to that here in the studio, which indicated to me that you think that that's true, that they are doing that.

Capt. NORWOOD: Yes. Actually, recently, yesterday, I re-enlisted a soldier in my company, Staff Sergeant Campos(ph) out at Santa Clarita. He's a volunteer baseball coach out there. And he just re-enlisted. Two months ago, I had another soldier, Staff Sergeant Palmer(ph), who - he's from Thousand Oaks. And he - we re-enlisted him out by the Rose Bowl.

Even - I just got back from Iraq seven months ago. My 15 months that I was in Iraq, I had eight soldiers work under me. Out of those eight soldiers, when their time came up for re-enlistment, all four of them I re-enlisted in Iraq.

COX: Now, why did they re-enlist?

Capt. NORWOOD: A lot of re-enlisted based off of family situations, based off of a sense job satisfaction and security.

COX: Now, there have been something is written publicly about the benefits that people in the military get once they separate from the military. And even the President Obama has been talking about trying to do more for veterans, particularly those who go to Iraq. Has this been an issue when you talk to recruiters like Javan about what will be available to them once they come out of the service?

Capt. NORWOOD: It has not been an issue, but I know from my experience with working with soldiers that do retire out, they are able to collect the pension, as long as they serve 20 years in. And from my experience, a lot of soldiers that I have known in my previous unit have been able to retire at a young age because they went into the military and served their 20 years early, or are able to collect retirement on top of starting a second job. I had a senior NCO tell me, why retire once if you could retire twice? And based off of the economy, you know, that's probably of a for-sure way to go.

COX: Javan, let me ask a question.

Mr. PAGE: Yes, sir.

COX: If you did not go to the Army, what would you do with your life?

Mr. PAGE: I would have gone to a community college, and then I would have transferred to a university of some sort.

COX: And tell me again, so that I'm clear, what was it about the Army that made you feel that was the better way to go than to do what you just said you would do otherwise?

Mr. PAGE: Once they told me about the free - they would pay for college.

COX: That's pretty much it?

Mr. PAGE: Yes, sir.

COX: And it was the Army always, as opposed to the Navy or Air Force or Marine Corps, for you?

Mr. PAGE: Not really.

COX: You didn't give that much thought?

Mr. PAGE: No, sir.

COX: Well, anybody in your family opposed to the idea?

Mr. PAGE: Not that I recall.

COX: Not that you recall. Any of your friends doing this?

Mr. PAGE: One of my friends, Marvin, just - he signed up Wednesday, or around Wednesday.

COX: After you, based on the fact that you did it, he did it?

Mr. PAGE: Just a week ago, when they came out to the Alejar(ph), I told him about it and he joined up.

COX: He joined up. Well, good luck, young man.

Mr. PAGE: Thank you.

COX: And I hope that the Army gives you what you are expecting it to do. Commander, good luck to you as well. I've been speaking with Captain Yahmin Norwood, who is an Army recruiting commander for the San Fernando Valley here in California, and Javan Page, a recent army recruit. They joined us here in the studios of NPR West.

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