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Recruits join armed forces seeking war

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Marine Corps recruit Steven Levine, 17, wants to be a sniper or a member of a "Force Recon" team, one of the Corps' special operations units.

"If I'm going to war, I want to be with the best," says Mr. Levine, a Baltimore native whose parents had to sign an age waiver for him to enlist in the Marines.

Mr. Levine has to get through boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and then attend infantry training school, but, he says, it's the "fast track" to war.

Going to war, more than job opportunities and money for college, is the post-September 11 allure for joining the armed services, military officials say. And, in a trend that bewilders and dismays those opposed to the war in Iraq, enlistment numbers are up and recruiting goals are mostly being met or exceeded.

"There is a sort of vendetta because of 9/11," says Staff Sgt. Jose Guerreiro, a senior drill instructor at Parris Island.

"Some recruits have even had family members killed in Iraq. We tell them chances are they'll be going," the sergeant said. "We explain to them that not everybody's going to be kicking down doors up front, but they know combat is likely for all Marines."

The military's numbers seem to back him up for the active-duty services, although the Reserves and National Guard units are having more trouble attracting new recruits.

For four out of the past five years, the Army has exceeded its goal for active-duty recruits, while regularly increasing the number desired. Fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30, was the first year it fell short, getting 92 percent of its 80,000 goal.

The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have all met or exceeded their annual recruiting goals for every year since September 11, although some monthly and quarterly shortfalls have occurred.

For 2005, for example, the Air Force exceeded its active recruiting goal of 18,900 new airmen by 322; the Navy topped its goal of 37,635 recruits by 68; and the Marines exceeded their 32,917 target by 44.

J.E. McNeil, executive director of the District-based Center on Conscience & War, an organization established to defend the rights of conscientious objectors, calls the figures "trumpetry" from the military.

"I haven't looked at the numbers this time around, but I do know that [earlier this year] when the Army did not make its goal, they lowered goal numbers in order to make goal," she said.

Airman 1st Class Brandon Consola, 20, from Albuquerque, N.M., enlisted in the Air Force in January after his scholarship program was discontinued at the University of New Mexico.

Airman Consola's chances of front-line combat are less than those of the Army or Marines, but his military training instructors have prepared him for the possibility of action in a war with blurred combat lines.

"During basic, we were often briefed on anti-terrorism," he says. "We also were given warlike scenarios to perform in the field."

Ensign Ben Norkin, a Navy ordnance officer serving aboard the frigate USS McClusky, was already enrolled in Navy ROTC at the University of Wisconsin on the morning of September 11.

The attacks did not deter him from service, but rather made him more personally committed. Today, he and his shipmates train for a war they joined to fight.

"We train on the threats that are more in line with a war against a small terrorist group rather than an entire nation," he says. "Senior officers on my ship can still recite the capabilities of Russian ships and aircraft, but training is not like that right now. Today, we train to defend against a swarm of speedboats, or low, slow-flying aircraft."

For Marine recruits, chances of seeing combat are high, and that's why they join.

"I want to see action," says Christian Parker Dillard, 18, during a rare break in training at Parris Island.

A former high school soccer player from Auburn, Ala., Mr. Dillard says he made the decision to join the military as he watched the September 11 attacks from his classroom TV.

"I had to do something," he says, before engaging in a bit of interservice rivalry. "I'm above average and didn't want to join the Army and be like everyone else."