- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

FORT DIX, N.J. (AP) — They ride Black Hawk helicopters, fire mock assault rifles in combat simulators and can learn what it’s like to drive a Humvee. Some are so excited they want pictures of themselves holding guns.

But these enthusiasts aren’t about to join the military. They’re principals, teachers, coaches and mentors — people who New Jersey military recruiters think hold the key to getting more high school students interested in the armed forces.

The strategy seems to be working. With the military sometimes struggling to meet recruitment goals nationwide, New Jersey’s National Guard has seen an increase in enlistment in the two years since the inception of its “Educate the Educator” program.

“If it wasn’t for programs like this, educators wouldn’t have an understanding of what we do,” said Lt. Col. Dennis Devery, who runs recruitment efforts for the New Jersey Guard.

Col. Devery credits the hands-on tours at Fort Dix, held two to three times a week in the past year, with putting the New Jersey Guard on track to sign up 900 high school and college students this year. Before the program, the Guard averaged about 500 high school and college enlistments, he said. The Guard expects 1,500 enlistments in total this year.

The program also has been tried in other states, said Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau in Arlington.

Guard officials say that by educating the educators, they gain allies in recruiting students whose parents often are concerned that their children will be sent into battle.

Sgt. Steve Lawrence, a Guard recruiter, said he often points out to parents that he has been in the Guard for six years and has yet to see combat duty — but he knows that’s possible. “It’s always the first thing I hear: ‘Iraq, Iraq, Iraq,’” Sgt. Lawrence said. “The parents are afraid.”

With at least 2,500 members of the U.S. military dead since the beginning of the Iraq war, Col. Devery acknowledged that concerns about safety are legitimate.

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