Because of economic factors, more teens are considering joining the military as they make decisions about their future after high school.
Military recruiters from nearby recruiting centers hold school assemblies on the topic and many students feel pressure to enlist.
“It’s uncomfortable,” Travis Clemington, 17, said. “They sort of hunt you down and suck you in a warp and ask you lots of question till you break down and begin to think about the military more and more. It was that or they asked more questions about our plans—which mine at the time weren’t looking too good.”
“After getting monthly mail and regular calls from the recruiter checking up on me, I’m beginning to see his way. I’m still unsure about enlisting, but it seems that it could actually be a good experience, maybe see new things. I don’t even know what I’m going to do tomorrow, but I know I don’t want to sign away my life…yet,” Clemington said.
With difficult jobs market, military recruitment increases among youth
As country’s economy worsens, the number of young people considering the military has gone up for the first time in about five years, noted Staff Sergeant Curtis Lancaster of the Air Force recruiting center in Jamaica, Queens.
Today, the percentage of young people who said they would probably join the military increased from 9 to 11 percent in the first half of this year, according to a Pentagon survey of people aged 16 to 21.
Military officials told USA Today that all branches of the military are experiencing an increase in recruitment and expect the trend to continue.
Andrew Walters, 17, plans to be among those joining up.
“It’s something I’ve waited for since I was nine. After seeing the commercials on TV, I knew it was my calling,” Walters said.
“The money would be great [too],” Walters added.
Volunteer enlistment marked by racial and financial factors
Mandatory military service ended in 1973 and since then, the United States has relied on a volunteer military.
But according to some critics, the term “volunteer,” doesn’t always accurately describe why teens end up joining the military.
Patriotism and a genuine desire to serve motivates many enlistees, but many other young people wind up in the military for different reasons, ranging from the promise of citizenship to economic pressure to the desire to escape a dead-end situation at home. People join “more because of the money,” said Lancaster, the Air Force staff sergeant.
The term “poverty draft” is sometimes used to criticize that fact enlistees are often young people with limited economic opportunities who feel that the military is their only option.
According to a 2007 Associated Press analysis, “nearly three-fourths of [the U.S. troops] killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average.”
In the years before the creation of an all-volunteer force in 1973, the military was predominately male and white. The Gates Commission of 1970 – which reviewed the necessity of the draft – also addressed concerns that an all-volunteer military would become “too black.”
Critics have argued that the higher pay for an all-volunteer force might appeal to low-income black men and women who might have fewer opportunities than white graduates.
‘This place is a dead end. I can offer them more’
As a senior, Andrew Walters sees the military as his best opportunity, even though he has an 87 grade point average. “I have no other options beside this,” he said. “I want something to do after I graduate. Going to college isn’t for me, it just won’t feel right.”
“I have no job,” said Walters. “I wanted to do something I was interested in. That’s why I wanted to be an Airman. That and the money.”
Patrick Gilles, 17, dreams of attending New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, but because of his family’s financial problems, he struggles to keep that dream alive.
“I’ve always dreamt of going to NYU, but I have no money, especially for a school like this in the city. Damn the recession.”
Gilles is now reverting to the military in an attempt to help his financial situation and plans to use the money to finally pay his way through college in the future.
“Through a friend was when I first took consideration about joining the army. I’m athletic, so I guess it was an alternative. … And after the contract is fulfilled, the recruiter said it’s guaranteed to be enough to put me through four years worth of college. I might finally get there.”
Financial hardships drive many like him to view the military’s promise of money for college as their only hope to study beyond high school.
“At least those like Gilles and Walters have some sort of plan, the others; they’re not going anywhere there. This place is a dead end. I can offer them more,” Lancaster said, referring to the young folks who just stay at home rather than do anything.
Whatever reason young people have for joining up, now is the time when they are making important decisions about the future, when summer is over and school has just begun.
“If the army’s the only place that will give me a decent pay, then so be it. It’ll test my limits anyways; maybe I’ll get lucky and finally make a change for this country that it so desperately needs,” Gilles said.