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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
These seniors at Bassett High School are among the students who have enlisted in different branches of the Armed Forces and will start their service after graduation. Front row, from left: Russell Eldridge, Christopher McBride, Heather Perry, Kayla Smith. Back row: Josh Berry, Mike Barber, Anthony Altizer. (Bulletin photos by Kim Barto)
Monday, January 5, 2009
By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer
Anthony Altizer won't graduate from Bassett High School until the spring, but he already has his career future mapped out.
Altizer, who wants to work in law enforcement, has enlisted in the Army National Guard and will start up after graduation. After serving in the Army for the standard 20-year career, he said he plans to use that experience in the civilian world to get a job with a police force.
In the meantime, he said, he signed up for military service "so I can go to college" and "get out and see the world," among other reasons.
Common reasons people join the military include patriotism, a desire for steady pay, job training and money for college, and a chance for adventure, local recruiters and recruits said.
Nationally, all branches of the U.S. military have had a strong recruiting year, and the Pentagon recently reported more potential interest in serving from youth. Military officials credit this to a number of factors, such as the worsening economy and progress in the Iraq war.
But these issues do not seem to have made a noticeable difference in recruiting numbers in the Henry County-Martinsville area, which traditionally has been a strong source of military recruits.
Local recruiters for the Army, Army National Guard and Marine Corps said their numbers have stayed at normal levels for the area in recent years, with anywhere from six to 12 people joining these branches each month from Martinsville, Henry and Patrick counties.
In the four years Staff Sgt. Michael Ricciardi has been an Army recruiter in Martinsville, he said, "the economy's changed here. There've been some job losses, but I don't think that's been a big factor."�
Five people enlisted as active duty or reserve soldiers in November, he said, adding he usually sees three to five recruits a month.
Numbers have remained "about the same," despite the economy. That's because locals are drawn by other factors than money, he said.
"I think the biggest factor is it tends to be a very patriotic area, and there are a lot of people who ... feel the call to duty and want to be part of something bigger," Ricciardi said.
Staff Sgt. Travis Treloar, who recruits for the Marine Corps, said his office has been doing "very well" locally for similar reasons.
Each month, "on the low end" about two to three local people decide to become Marines, he said.
"There is a very high interest in the Marine Corps in this area," Treloar said. "I think it's because of the patriotism of the people ... and the willingness to give back to their country."�
People are drawn to the Marines in particular because of the values, he said.
However, the pay, benefits and bonuses certainly don't hurt recruitment efforts.
Sgt. Jerrold Carter, who recruits for the Army National Guard, said recruiting has been "very strong because of the job loss in this area," making the $1,347 starting monthly enlisted paycheck look especially appealing.
Carter said an average of four people walk in each day at the National Guard Armory. Enlistment "goes up and down" but usually is at least two recruits a month, he said.
Because of job losses, many people cannot afford college, he said. "That's where I come in."�
Carter said the tuition money and opportunity to stay close to home while getting an education are major factors in attracting Guard recruits.
"We offer quite a bit more educational benefits than other branches," he said, adding that 100 percent of state tuition and books are covered.
Plus, through the College First program, a score of 50 or better on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test allows Guard members to stay in school for two years without being deployed. This is "one of our biggest selling points," Carter said.
Other reasons for joining vary but can include "service to country" or "family tradition," he said. The advanced job training also attracts a lot of people.
Robert Dixon of Bassett said he was motivated to join the Army National Guard's Active First program in November by "the money and good career."�
Dixon said the benefits of enlisting include health care for his family, "a good enlistment bonus, education. ... They offer you a good job and career," he said, adding he plans to work as a lightweight mechanic.
After completing basic training, Active First recruits serve a set period of time as full-time, active duty soldiers and then transfer back to the Guard for the rest of their enlistment. Normally, service in the National Guard and other reserve forces requires a part-time commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.
This "can help you if you want to stay close to home," Carter said. The Guard "takes care of this country, as well as abroad," so there are many job opportunities nearby, he said.
The reserves usually attract students, Carter said, whereas active duty appeals to those in the working world who are "ready for a change ... a chance to travel and a lot of adventure."�
Several Bassett High School seniors who have enlisted in the military gave various reasons, from wanting to serve their country to the promise of job security and benefits. They all agreed, however, that the progress of the war did not influence their choice, and they would have joined regardless of the situation overseas.
One student, Heather Perry, chose a career in the Marine Corps because "I never wanted anything else," she said. "There's pride that comes with Marines that you can't get anywhere else."�
Perry said her father was a Marine, "but that didn't have anything to do with my decision."�
Once she graduates in the spring, she said she will work in aviation mechanics.
Mike Barber and three other Bassett students said they chose the reserves because of a program allowing them to go through basic training while still in high school. However, they all plan to switch to active duty after graduation.
Barber, who enlisted in the Army Reserve, said he wanted to "serve my country. I wanted something I could be proud of, that my family could be proud of," he said.
Plus, "there are a lot of opportunities to see different parts of the world," he added.
Student Kayla Smith said she signed up for the Army Reserve for the same reasons. Also, she said, "I just wanted to have a career I knew would be stable."�
Student Russell Eldridge joined the Army National Guard because "I wanted to make something better of my life," he said. "They pay for college in full, and it looks good on a rÃ©sumÃ©."�
All of these students are cadets in Bassett's JROTC, which can earn them a higher pay grade if they join the Armed Forces after high school, local recruiters said.
However, while school JROTC programs offer a taste of the military experience, they are not recruiting pools, instructors said.
"People think we're here to recruit, but we're not," said Lt. Col. Dave King, JROTC instructor at Martinsville High School. "We're very careful to stay away from that. Our mission in JROTC is to encourage them to be better citizens."�
Bassett High School JROTC instructor Sgt. Maj. Russell Wilder agreed, although he said many of his students do end up joining the military.
King said he does not see many Martinsville High School cadets go on to military service after high school.
"For most of our students, this'll be the only time they wear a military uniform, but they'll know a little more about the military" after the experience, he said.
However, King said, if they join senior ROTC in college to become an officer, some of their high school time is counted.
Even if a college student does not stick with ROTC, the program can help pay for college tuition and books, King said. Many people do not know that students do not have to decide whether to go into the service until their junior year, he said.
"There is a lot of scholarship money out there in all branches of the service," he said.