- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Lt. Col. Roxane Engelbrecht was a junior Air Force officer on Sept. 11, 2001. Sgt. 1st Class Robert Meola was a newly enlisted soldier, just 13 days in. Maj. Tim Davis was in the JROTC building at J.H. Rose High School.

They all remember what they saw and felt that day.

But the young people they teach, train, instruct or recruit are increasingly removed from that date and its significance. While thousands of people lined up at recruiting offices after 9/11 ready to defend the nation against enemies foreign and domestic, fewer and fewer people are citing that infamous date as a reason for interest in military service or ROTC programs.

For some, it is a legacy of family service which serves as inspiration.

“I grew up in a military family,” said Cadet Capt. Brandon Sinor, 22, of Seattle, a senior in the Army ROTC program at East Carolina University and a member of the National Guard. “I don’t think I’d be doing this if my family didn’t have that history.”

“I always thought I wanted to join the military and make that my career,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Amina House, 17, a senior at J.H. Rose High School in the Army JROTC program. “My grandfather served, and so I wanted to.”

House wants to pursue a career as an Army Military Police officer.

Others cited leadership, character building and gaining tools for success as reasons for pursuing ROTC programs or military service.

Before coming to ECU, Cadet Cap. Oliver Anderson, 25, said he was a Marine.

“I always knew I wanted to go to ECU, and I started out as a normal student,” Anderson said. “But I quickly realized I still wanted to pursue a military career, and the ROTC program teaches so much leadership and skill you need to be successful.”

Capt. Jeremy Klitzkie, 17, of Greenville, a senior in the Rose Army JROTC program, said he was interested in what the program could give to him.

“At first it sounded kind of cool, but knowing that I would learn leadership skills to deal with stuff inside and outside of school and have experience to deal with all kinds of things was why I was interested,” Klitzkie said. “There are a lot of opportunities to improve yourself and your character and make you ready for whatever career you choose.”

Klitzkie said he intends to pursue a career in the Army or Marines or attend a military college.

“I wanted to be involved to become a better leader,” 1st Lt. Marcus Sutton, 16, of Greenville, said. “And it teaches you to be a good motivator of other people, which can be useful in other careers, too.”

Staff Sgt. Laith Hamed, a sophomore at in the Rose JROTC program, said leadership is not the only benefit he has gained.

“You learn a lot about being a good leader, but it also keeps you disciplined and gives you confidence and self motivation,” Hamed said. “It also gives you an advantage if you want to join the military because you could join as a higher rank.”

Others found their passion in a pursuit of camaraderie.

“It’s the teamwork and the camaraderie,” Cadet Lt. Col. Kelsey Page, 20, of Macclesfield, said. “And I wanted to be a nurse because those men and women need someone to take care of them, too.”

“My whole life has been family-based,” Jesse Kocsis, 21, of Charlotte, said. “Always having someone there for you is such a big thing that a lot of people don’t realize.”

Page and Kocsis are seniors in the ECU Army ROTC program.

For area residents not involved in ROTC or not planning to pursue a college degree before enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces, recruiting offices are where they turn.

Despite not having a military installation in the immediate area, the Greenville Recruiting Center ranks seventh among recruiting stations in North Carolina, Meola said. The center enlisted 98 Army and 24 reserve personnel this year.

Meola said the No. 1 reason potential recruits cite for being interested in military service is “to get out of Greenville. They have no job opportunities.”

Gone are the days when the center may have heard people cite 9/11 as their inspiration, Meola said.

“I will say that many of the recruits today are joining the Army for job opportunities and educational benefits,” he said. “I am not sure many of today’s recruits are joining for the same reasons they did back then. You have to consider that some of the freshmen in high school weren’t even born when 9/11 happened.”

And though travel ranks high as a reason for enlistment, Meola said about 70 percent of recruits return to their communities and use skills from military service toward local careers. Qualifying to serve is not as easy as some may think, he said.

“We’re looking for medically qualified,” he said. “They need to be morally qualified, and one of the hardest things we’re having right now is being able to pass the ASVAB,” he said. “The education system around here has been tough on us.”

The education system in Pitt County has led to nearly 50 percent of potential recruits being disqualified for service or being “less than quality,” Meola said.

“Failing the ASVAB is perhaps the greatest deterrent to recruiting in our area,” he said.

The ASVAB is a multiple-aptitude battery that measures developed abilities and helps predict academic and occupational success in the military. It is administered annually to more than one million military applicants, high school and post-secondary students.

Despite those challenges, the Greenville center has recruited more than 1,500 soldiers to the U.S. Army since Sept. 11, 2001.

And Meola said recruiters continue to have a strong presence in local high schools to encourage relationships with students and the community.

“We are in the high schools four to five times a week and we get involved in the community with such things as high school football games,” he said. “People in this community really do support the military.”

And while ROTC cadets were young on Sept. 11, 2001, they said it has shaped their lives and their view of service.

“That was a significant time when there was a threat to our national security, and it’s a calling for all military members to respond,” Anderson said. “It’s our job to defend our liberties in this country, and we serve a purpose to protect those unable to protect themselves - whether back then or today, it’s still an important role to play.”?”The people who trained us were really affected by that,” Kocsis said. “Many of them lost friends. And that reflects on us because those men and women were technically our brothers and sisters in arms. We can’t forget that.”

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Information from: The Daily Reflector, http://www.reflector.com

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