- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

CLEARWATER (AP) — Jordan Hunkin wants to be a Marine so desperately that he skipped his high school graduation this month to get an early start at boot camp. His recruiter had to pull some strings to make it happen.

The slight 17-year-old wants to go straight into the infantry, qualify for special operations and become a sniper.

And if he is needed in Iraq, bring it on.

“I want to do my part,” said the teen, who showed up at the recruiting office with his father on his birthday, the first day he could legally enlist. “I think it’s our responsibility to the rest of the world to maintain order.”

Despite a particularly bloody spring in Iraq for American troops and the fallout from the prisoner-abuse scandal, business is still good for U.S. military recruiters.

Many recruits are unfazed by the flag-draped caskets coming home from Iraq since the surge of violence began April 1.

The Pentagon said the fighting in Iraq has not affected overall recruiting numbers either way. Statistics through 2003 show all branches hitting annual targets, with no dramatic spikes. In fiscal 2003, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force brought in 184,879 recruits to active duty, exceeding their goals by more than 500.

And despite the bloodshed, troops are re-enlisting at rates that exceed retention goals, according to the Pentagon.

Recruiters say patriotic interest in the military has been high since the September 11 terrorist attacks, and they still are tapping into it.

Gunnery Sgt. David McDaniel, chief of Marine recruiting in Pinellas County on Florida’s Gulf Coast, said his office has been so successful that recruits who signed on in April will have to wait until early next year to get a slot at boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., the initial destination for every fledgling Marine in the eastern United States.

And a good many want to fight.

“The infantry program is definitely not one that we have to convince people to do,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Miller, who has three Marines he recruited serving in Iraq. “We almost have to talk more people out of that one because there’s a limited number of openings.”

Sgt. McDaniel said recruiters are making an extra effort to ensure that recruits know what they are getting into.

“We tell it like it is. If it scares somebody, we don’t want that individual in the Marine Corps.”

Staff Sgt. William W. Judge Jr., who recruits for the Army in Tampa, Fla., said young people still join the service for the old reasons — get money for college, learn a trade, find some direction — but the war on terrorism has generated a few more soldiers.

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