Local recruits keep eye on war news

Amy Norman is so gung-ho about joining the Army that she had the Army insignia tattooed on her arm.

Arriving at a recruiting station in Woodbridge to complete some details, she talked about wanting to serve her country and how great an Army nurse career would be.

There was just one little problem: The war.

“I don’t follow it on television because it upsets me,” Norman, 20, confided. “It’s not something I want to see. It intimidates me. I’m not worried about going. I would be honored to go. But the number of casualties and the danger of being over there worries me.”

It’s crunch time for military recruiting as a new crop of high school seniors decides what to do after graduation. This year the armed services are looking for 189,688 new recruits with the Army alone requiring 73,800.

The question now is what effect saturation news coverage of the Iraqi war will have. Recent images of Iraqi civilians cheering U.S. troops could spur enlistment. But with live news reports coming from front-line forces, potential soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are seeing the violence of war up close.

The Pentagon says it is too soon to determine what impact the war will have on recruiting. Only three weeks into the fight, statistics from hundreds of recruiting stations in malls, shopping centers and downtown storefronts have not yet arrived.

In Woodbridge, just 20 miles from the Pentagon, Army Sgt. 1st Class Sandra Powell, who commands the recruiting station, said she has not yet seen an impact.

“We’re truthful with them,” she said of potential recruits. “The war is not something we can hide. But we tell them what the Army can do for them, and we try to match their interests with the Army’s needs.”

A couple of Vietnam War vets came in to reenlist, she said, but they had to be turned away because of their age.

Using lists provided by high schools and colleges, recruiters work the phones to make initial contacts. When they hit someone who’s interested, they follow up with personal meetings, sometimes taking the student to lunch.

The Woodbridge recruiting station is known as one of the most active in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Many children of military families attend the six high schools in the station’s area.

“Support Our Brave Troops” says a homemade banner hanging on a nearby interstate highway overpass. Lighted highway signs between Woodbridge and Washington urge people “To Report Information on Terrorism” and gives a toll-free telephone number.

“This is a pretty patriotic area,” Powell said. “But right now, we’re looking at the economy and what the Army can offer recruits to get to the next level.”

Private E-2 Antuan Minor, just out of basic training, returned to the Woodbridge recruiting station where he enlisted after high school last year to help find recruits from his alma mater. He followed his father into a military career.

“Everyone says to me, ‘I don’t want to join because I don’t want to go to war,’ ” said Minor, who trained as a signal support specialist and will be heading to South Korea. “I tell them it’s not always just fighting. There are all kinds of things to do. They might like it.”

Private 1st Class Tonya Brooks, also just out of basic training and back at her old recruiting station, said, “My friend says to me, ‘I just think about you over there in Iraq.’ And I say, ‘I’m going to Hawaii.’ “

Brooks said when she got the first call from the Army in high school, she said, “I’m not going to join the Army. Why are you calling me? I thought I was more college bound. But here I am in the Army and I wouldn’t change anything.”

Even in basic training, the war did not intrude, both said.

“Everyone’s attitude was nonchalant,” Brooks said. “We would watch it on TV and think about it. But it was not the focus of what we were doing. We had so much stuff to do — shine boots, do homework.”

Minor said he and his fellow enlistees were required to watch war news for an hour a day. But that was it, he said. The commander didn’t want the enlistees to fixate on the war.

For Amy Norman, who finished high school with a graduate equivalency degree, the financial benefits of joining outweighed her queasiness about the war.

“It’s just a promising future,” she said. “I get guaranteed training and a 20-year career.”

Gil Klein, a national correspondent with the Media General News Service, can be reached at [email protected]

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