The average age of an Army recruit is 21 years old, military
statistics show, and while the number of young people in that
age group opting to enlist decreased slightly in 2005, many youth
between the ages of 18 and 24 still are choosing a career in military
service, impelled by the prospect of financial security, career
options and adventure.
"You get a lot of money for school. There's so many jobs
in [the military]," 20-year-old Brandon Mahoney, of Haddon
Heights, N.J. said. "It looks great on a resume. You learn
a lot of self-discipline, how to manage adversity. It makes you
an overall better person."
For Mahoney, who comes from a military family -- his parents,
uncles, grandfather and aunts have served -- the prospect of serving
his country as well as being able to build a career he may not
have had in civilian life drew him to a military recruitment office
in Arlington, Va., where he is in the process of enlisting in
"I always wanted to work with tanks and helicopters, and
that's not something I think I could do in the civilian world,"
That sense, that the military affords young Americans the opportunity
to fulfill dreams they could not otherwise have fulfilled, is
what disturbs people like Oskar Castro, director of the National
Youth and Militarism Program for the American Friends Service
Castro's organization works with anti-recruitment groups around
the country to provide youth with information about college loans,
vocational schools and other options for after high school.
According to Castro and many of the groups he assists, a majority
of young people coming out of high school and considering military
service do so because they think they have few other alternatives.
"You have young people who look at the military and say,
'I don't have the money to go to college, I don't have the skill
set to get a job after high school, and here's the military and
they've got it. I'm going for it.'"
Castro says that the military targets young people coming out
of high school, trying to decide on what to do next precisely
because they are at their most vulnerable.
"We've come to realize that the highest level of recruitment
happens within the high school arena and within the educational
environment," Castro said. "In high school these are
still minors and the level of acceptance of militarism is different.
... They are not having frank and thorough discussions about war,
about what happens if I lose an arm, about what are my parents
going to do if my fiancée has a child and I die."
While military recruiters say they do target all age and educational
groups from 17 to 42 (recruits have up until their 42nd birthday
to enlist), statistics show that a majority of recruits in the
Army -- the largest of the military branches -- has only a high
school diploma and average 21 years old.
Only 24.2 percent of new active Army and 26.6 percent of Army
Reserve recruits had any sort of college credit in 2005, according
to statistics provided by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command office.
Whether in high school or college, opinions vary among civilian
youth about whether or not the military is an effective tool.
Nationally, statistics provided by the Pew Research Center show
mixed feelings about American militarism. When shown the statement,
"The best way to ensure peace is through military strength,"
48.6 percent of 18-to-25 year olds agreed, compared to 60.8 percent
of those 26 and older.
Raymond Cyrille, 18, of the Bronx in New York falls on the side
of those who don't advocate joining the military, even though
both his mother's brothers were in the Navy.
"I did think about it freshman year of high school,"
Cyrille said. "One of the reasons was looking at my uncles
and really admiring their lives and their families."
Because of the Iraq war, however, Cyrille feels his experience
in the military would not be the same if he were to enlist in
today's war-time environment.
"It's very unlikely that I [would] end up with the type
of support that my uncles got. It's just not the same time. It's
For ethnic minorities, women and even gay young Americans, Cyrille
continued, the experience of the military may not be all it's
cracked up to be.
"The reality [of military life] depends on the identities
of the people that join," he said. "If you're a person
of color, you might experience racism. If you're poor, the reality
is you might not get the money you wanted. If you're a woman,
you might experience being sexually assaulted or raped."
Despite the risks, military life can be an appealing alternative
to the prospect of sky-high college loans and the uncertainty
of not knowing whether college is the right choice.
The Montgomery GI Bill pays a little over $36,000 in college
fees for recruits who score a certain percentage on their military
entrance exam, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
The recruits also have to agree to enlist for a particular number
of years and contribute $100 a month of their military salary
to the program, according to the Army.
Recruits also have more than 200 careers to choose from, with
training built into their service, living expenses partly covered,
as well as the possibility of seeing parts of the world young
people thought they may never see.
Staff Sgt. Eduardo Garcia, a recruiter for the Army's Arlington,
Va. office speaks with dozens of youth over the course of a week.
A majority of the recruits he enlists are people between the ages
of 18 and 24. The reasons, he says, differ for why they express
interest in joining.
"It's all about their goals," Garcia said. "It
could be adventure, money, a vacation, to serve their country.
... Adventure is the highest one. People pay hundreds of dollars
to go sky diving. Being a soldier -- at least in the Airborne
-- you can do it for free twice a month."
According to Garcia, older recruits -- those in their late 20s
and 30s -- have different reasons for joining. For them, he said,
the prospect of providing for their families is one of the most
appealing parts of the service.
But for those young people who joined the military for patriotic
reasons, for financial reasons or even to fulfill a dream, the
realities of combat -- a very real possibility for anyone enlisting
in the military today, Garcia admits -- may overshadow the perceived
benefits of military life.
Twenty-one-year-old Scott Gossett, who lives in Columbus, Ga.,
joined the Army straight out of high school. He felt an "ingrained
sense of duty" to enlist.
Gossett spent 12 months in Iraq before returning home in January
2005 to his wife, also 21, and their 2-year-old daughter.
According to Gossett, even before leaving for Iraq, he felt he'd
made a mistake, that he didn't want to be part of an organization
that "inflicts pain on people."
"I had this very Hollywood idea of the Army and it's really
nothing like that. ... I expected it to be constantly doing all
the really exciting field training and going to rifle ranges.
I expected that all the time. I thought it would be right out
of [the movie] 'Full Metal Jacket,'" said Gossett.
His advice for any of his peers considering the military as a
career choice: "Don't watch any war movies because it's nothing
-- By Kristina Nwazota, Generation Next