Military recruiters aggressive with teens |

Military recruiters aggressive with teens

William Ferchland

On March 13, Jimmy Coalter and his family were celebrating his 18th birthday with a turkey Thanksgiving-like dinner when the phone rang. It was a military recruiter asking if the teenager-turned-adult ever considered enlisting.

With military enlistment quotas not being met from coast to coast in a time of war, South Shore high school students are not immune to the sometimes aggressive manner of recruiters or the benefits military service can bring.

Coalter, a recent graduate of South Tahoe High School who said he received calls from recruiters about six months before his birthday, is not interested in the armed forces.

“We were eating dinner and he called,” Coalter recalled. “My mom said ‘hang up on him’ so I did and he called right back.”

The caller didn’t represent a particular branch of service, Coalter said, but if the 18-year-old was interested in one area the person could make sure a recruiter would stop by for a personal visit.

“It was kind of weird getting a call that day because I thought they might wait awhile,” Coalter said.

Since there isn’t a recruiting station in Tahoe, recruiters from Carson City and Placerville make trips up to the basin. Staff Sgt. Jeremy Funk, an Air Force recruiter in Placerville, hits South Lake Tahoe twice a month. He visits the high school and Lake Tahoe Community College to speak with interested students.

He also asks businesses if he can post a flier describing the benefits of enlisting in the Air Force, such as 100 percent tuition assistance for college and a possible $12,000 signing bonus.

Funk has been working the county for seven months enlisting a dozen future soldiers. It’s on target, Funk said, since he works in a rural county and has an expectation of enlisting at least one future soldier a month.

“I really can’t complain,” he said. “It’s a pretty good zone.”

Funk’s presence, along with other recruiters, is embraced at South Tahoe High School. Lori Nelson, the school’s counselor who acts as a liaison between the recruiters and school, advocates military service.

College tuition and experience are the underlying reasons students should consider the military, Nelson said.

“You’ve got the best of everything: Your education is paid for and you have work experience,” she said. “It’s a marvelous preparation and opportunity for anybody who is open to it. Mostly we try to get kids to think beyond high school,” she said.

The school also makes available the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Test which is used by the military in determining a potential soldier’s strength in computers, engineering or other areas, Nelson said.

About 100 students take the test annually. The number has been consistent throughout the past five years, Nelson said.

First Class Sgt. Chris Aranyos, one of six recruiters in the Carson City office, said the office has an average of five enlistments each month. Aranyos said the number has kept steady even though the office’s goal this month is 11 enlistments.

“I would say we’ve got a really good area out here,” he said. The area is large. The Carson City office covers all of the Lake Tahoe Basin, as far south as Mammoth Lakes and east to Fallon and Hawthorne.

As Aranyos tells it, his office isn’t plagued with the recruiting troubles the Army is experiencing.

The Army National Guard, a cornerstone of the U.S. force in Iraq, missed its recruiting goal for at least the ninth straight month in June and is nearly 19,000 soldiers below its authorized strength, military officials said Monday.

The Army Guard was seeking 5,032 new soldiers in June but signed up only 4,337, a 14 percent shortfall, according to statistics released earlier this month by the Pentagon. It is more than 10,000 soldiers behind its year-to-date goal of almost 45,000 recruits, and has missed its recruiting target during at least 17 of the last 18 months.

“The recruiting environment remains difficult in terms of economic conditions and alternatives,” the Army said in a statement. “We are concerned about meeting the fiscal year 2005 recruiting missions, but we are confident that our recruiting initiatives will take hold and the American public will respond.”

Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said that despite the shortfall, the service is still able to meet its commitments to the Pentagon as well as to state governors, who call on the Guard during natural disasters and other emergencies.

Whittell High School graduate Patrick Rafferty decided to join the Navy this year after some indecision. He said $4,000 was pledged to him for signing up although he hasn’t received the money. Money for college tuition was also promised.

A recruiter visited his campus but “he really didn’t talk me into my decision. I just made it on my own,” he said.

He leaves for boot camp Aug. 7.

“I don’t like the feeling of being in combat,” he said. “I would have probably joined the Army if it wasn’t for the war.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

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