View Full Version : Armed Guard and No Door, but Recruiters Carry On

03-08-08, 06:30 AM
March 8, 2008
Armed Guard and No Door, but Recruiters Carry On

The scene of the crime on Friday morning had no yellow “crime scene” tape blocking off the sidewalk, and no locks on the door. The door had been so badly shattered that it had to be removed.

A day after a small explosion shook the military recruiting station in Times Square, the station commander, Sgt. James V. Latella, 32, offered his assessment: The station has “absolutely gone back to normal, sir.”

Not quite.

Outside the recruiting station, which is an 18-wheeler-size box of gunmetal gray, two New York City police officers walked in small circles. Several others patrolled surrounding streets.

Nearby, a television news truck was preparing for a broadcast. Passengers pointed at the station from cars stopped at the red light. Tourists milled around and took photographs of their friends with the damaged station in the background.

Jokesters posed for pictures while pulling hoodies over their heads and making handlebar gestures — an allusion to the suspected bomber who surveillance footage indicated wore a hooded sweatshirt or jacket and rode a bicycle.

The city has long had an ambivalent relationship with the military, played out, as often as not, in Times Square.

Perhaps the most famous photograph ever taken there, not far from the bombed station, is of a sailor planting a kiss on a swooning nurse on V-J Day in 1945. During Fleet Week every year, Navy officers and sailors in dress whites get hearty handshakes from admiring civilians.

On the other hand, the Times Square recruiting station has often become an object of resentment during conflicts with less popular support than World War II had. Demonstrations protesting Korea, Vietnam and both Iraq wars have been held nearby. An occasional stone has been thrown at it, and countless discouraging words have been uttered about it.

But the bomb blast, about 3:45 a.m. on Thursday, was by far the worst incident. Luckily, there were no injuries and little property damage.

No arrests have been made, no suspects identified. But police investigators said that a blue bicycle recovered at Madison Avenue and 38th Street on Thursday morning was probably the one used by the bomber. A $12,000 reward has been offered for any information that leads to a conviction in the bombing.

The station reopened shortly after 5 p.m. on Thursday. On any given day, said Sergeant Latella — a 12-year veteran from Irwin, Pa. — the number of people who walk in depends on the weather. He said it could be about two dozen on a good day.

Of the six recruiting stations in Manhattan, the Times Square station — just below where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve — is the most successful, averaging 20 or more recruits a year for the Army alone, said Capt. Charles Jaquillard, 31, a 10-year Army veteran from Toledo, Ohio, who supervises the six stations.

The station also accepts volunteers for the Navy, the Marines and the Air Force, but Captain Jaquillard was not familiar with those numbers.

The authorities called Captain Jaquillard at his home shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday to tell him about the bomb. “I was still groggy,” he recalled. “I got up and turned on the television and found out that it was in fact a valid statement.” He telephoned his girlfriend to tell her that no one had been injured and that there was no cause for concern.

By 6 a.m., Captain Jaquillard was at the station, watching as investigators combed the scene for evidence. “For whatever reason this was done,” he said, “there are other ways to get a point across. Whatever that point was, whether it was to stop our recruiting operations or something else, obviously it was a fruitless effort.”

After the police left in the afternoon, Captain Jaquillard deployed two soldiers at the station because the shattered door had been removed. There were computers and other valuable equipment inside, as well as personnel records. The door was replaced in the afternoon.

Recruiting goes on, he emphasized, comparing the bombing to a spell of bad weather. The station is normally open Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“People come in because they’ve got interest in military service,” he said. “It’s like any other job interview — whether it’s raining or snowing, it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

To volunteer for the United States armed forces, an applicant can be as young as 17, with a parent’s permission, but most applicants are in their early 20s, Captain Jaquillard said.

While recruiting soldiers for a shooting war may seem difficult, he said, most applicants usually give one of four reasons for joining: to gain new skills, to earn money for college, to go overseas, and “just plain getting out of the neighborhood.”

By midafternoon Friday, despite the milling tourists and the television broadcast trucks, at least three young people had dropped by to talk for an hour or more with recruiters.

One possible recruit, who seemed barely in her teens, left the station and was immediately surrounded by reporters seeking comment. She smiled, said nothing and walked away.