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04-22-03, 06:51 AM
April 21, 2003

Wartime patriotism spurs enlistment

By Staci Hupp
Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Graduation was a few exams away, and Justen Jones didn’t have a plan. Then he turned on the television news.
The pictures of death in Iraq didn’t impress the senior at Des Moines’ North High School. The men and women in uniform did.

Jones, 18, marched into a military recruiting office at Southridge Mall in Des Moines two weeks ago. Recruiters liked what they saw but told the 245-pounder to drop 50 pounds before he enlists as a Marine. Jones swore off Burger King and started jogging.

He joined North High School’s Marine Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. His new haircut needs no gel.

“I really respect people of authority,” Jones said. “It just makes me want that sort of respect.”

Patriotism in Iowa shows not only in the American flags that line the streets of small towns. It’s also showing up in military recruiting offices.

The faces change — they range from teenagers with pierced noses to 40-year-old men with beer bellies — but their stories are the same: The itch to enlist started with the war in Iraq.

“Now there’s a lot more patriotism involved,” said Lance Cpl. Nick Miller, 18, who answered telephones this month at a Marine Corps recruiting office in Des Moines. “They see the war coverage, and they get interested.”

National strife always sparks more interest, military officials say, but the attention doesn’t yield more recruits.

Many people who talk to recruiters don’t meet strict physical, mental, age and background requirements. And the people who are hungry only for college benefits have disappeared since the war started, Miller said.

Military recruiting is steady nationally and in Iowa, despite a dry spell that worried federal officials a few years ago.

The Iowa National Guard and the nation’s military services — Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force — have met enlistment goals for the past three years. The Army’s ROTC program on college campuses commissioned nearly 300 more officers nationwide last year than the year before, although it still fell short of its 3,800 annual goal.

At least 33 people in Senior Chief Tony Weida’s office have qualified for enlistment since March, “which is a lot,” he said.

“Since the war began, my numbers have been astronomical,” said Weida, a U.S. Navy recruiter in Marshalltown and Ames.

Military officials credit changes in advertising campaigns and technology. Researchers point to the nation’s shaky economy instead, which paralyzes the job market.

The number of young people who show interest in the military has plunged in the past 20 years as more teenagers go to college, according to a national study involving an Iowa State University professor.

The study, released in January, warns that a surge in recruiting in war and economic hard times have no lasting effect. The military services need a new image, the study said.

The services failed to meet their goal in 1999 — the first year since the federal government dropped the draft. The same year, the U.S. Department of Defense asked the National Academy of Sciences to find out why.

The armed forces largely have courted youth with television advertising that highlights college benefits and job skills. As a result, the youths who join are in it for themselves instead of their country, said John Eighmey, an Iowa State journalism professor who worked on the study.

Researchers interviewed more than 10,000 people aged 16 to 24. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed listed duty to their country as the top reason people should join the services. Youths that view military service as a duty don’t find reinforcements from their peers, Eighmey said.

The proportion of young people who overlook the military services has ballooned by 20 percent since the mid-1980s, the study found.

The study suggests using the media to change that attitude.

“The kind of message that intersperses values is the way to address the problem,” Eighmey said.

Army officials already have embraced the change, and in 2000, they replaced the 20-year-old “Be All You Can Be” advertising campaign, which pushed personal success, to the “Army of One,” which encourages unity.

“It was very much part of the lexicon of our society, but at the same time it might not inspire the call to action as it had in previous generations,” said Paul Boyce, a U.S. Army spokesman in Washington, D.C.

Television news helped nab Jones and Kelsey McGrady, 19, of Lake Mills.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” said McGrady, who enlisted in the Navy in February. Television coverage “made my excitement grow a lot.”

Jones admits that college benefits played a role in his decision to enlist as a Marine. But so did pride.

“No one wants to have a boring life,” Jones said. “I want to look back and be able to talk about my life and not bore people.”