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thedrifter
01-03-09, 07:53 AM
They'll truly be brothers in arms
By Denise Nix, Staff Writer
Daily Breeze
Posted:01/02/2009 11:10:17 PM PST


When the Lopez brothers walked into the Army's recruiting office in Carson, they had hollow wallets, dead-end jobs and no professional prospects in sight.

"I was broke," said Salvador Lopez Jr., 18. "I didn't like that."

Salvador was attempting to put himself through school at Cerritos College by working as a janitor at a church.

But he wasn't making enough to make ends meet, and his grades suffered as he worked harder at his job.

His older brother, Sergio Lopez, 23, had a taste of success with his own business selling life insurance.

But the economy tanked, business slowed and he found himself back in his childhood home with his family, working odd jobs to pay the bills.

"I was living paycheck to paycheck," Sergio said. "Who likes that?"

The brothers were discussing their situation a couple of months ago when Salvador blurted out, "Let's join the Army."

"I just needed a big change," Salvador said.

A week later, in mid-November, the brothers enlisted.

Staff Sgt. Rudy Corona said it's not rare that people come in to the office together. It is unusual, he said, that both qualify for service.

While Corona said he has not seen an increase in interest as a result of the economic downturn, Army figures show that enlistment has increased recently.

Recruiters met their goals this quarter for the first time in five years, Army spokesman Mark Howell said.

"We don't like to see the economy take a downswing," Howell said. "But there is definitely a correlation between a poor economy and military recruitment."

In the Los Angeles area, 589 people have enlisted since the beginning of October, Howell said. That number exceeds the fiscal quarter's goal by seven.

Howell said education and career opportunities, plus a stable paycheck, are huge incentives to join.

Reports from the Marines and Navy show that the branches are enjoying similar success in meeting recruitment goals.

A Dec. 29 Army Times article that explores the economic downturn's effect on recruitment states that the Marines have also surpassed their goals for the same time period.

The Lopez brothers agree that the money was a huge draw. Salvador, who enlisted for two years of active duty and four in the reserves, gets a $20,000 signing bonus; Sergio, who will serve six years, gets $35,000.

When their service is complete, both hope to complete their education and parlay their military experience into a good job.

The boys and their 21-year-old sister grew up in a modest Compton home. Despite coming of age in an area known for its gang-ridden streets and high homicide rate, they both stayed away from drugs, gangs and crime.

"Our parents did a good job of keeping us isolated from the negativity out there," Sergio said while talking in the family's cozy living room. "They put a straight head on our shoulders."

Sergio graduated from Serra High School in Gardena in 2003 with a 3.8 grade point average.

After high school, he started working as a sales representative and enrolled at California State University, Dominguez Hills with the goal of becoming a teacher.

But after two semesters, he dropped out and never went back, finding that he was focusing more on work.

Eventually, he opened his own company, moved out and felt he was headed down the path to success.

Then, the economy turned sour and business halted. He moved back into his parents' home and now works as a sales representative for various newspapers and in the shipping and receiving department of a Torrance warehouse.

Their mother was laid off from her job at a metal parts factory recently, and their dad, Salvador Lopez Sr., is the maintenance supervisor at the same church where Salvador works - Love and Unity Church in Compton.

Salvador graduated in 2007 from Artesia High School in Lakewood and began taking classes in junior college. With a love of athletics, Salvador thought he would one day become a fitness trainer.

Never able to keep ahead of his dwindling finances, Salvador also began to focus more on his job, causing his grades to decline.

The brothers spent a day at the recruiting center, enduring written and physical tests, background checks and interviews.

In the end, Salvador opted to become an artillery crew member, and Sergio will become a truck driver.

Sergio leaves for 10 weeks of basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., on Jan. 14. He hopes to go to Germany when his training is complete.

Salvador leaves for nine weeks of training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on Jan. 20.

Corona, their recruiter, said basic training is where soldiers learn about the Army hierarchy and to march in formation and shoot their weapons.

"They break you down and build you back up," he said.

Corona, a nine-year veteran from San Pedro, said there is no way to know where the brothers will end up - and they could find themselves on the front lines in Afghanistan or in Iraq.

Their father said he was shocked to hear about their decision, but that he supports them - even if it means they will go into combat.

"I always tell them to look for their passion," he said. "I've given it to God already, placed it in God's hands. It's beyond my control."

The brothers say they are willing to go anywhere and take pride in the chance to fight for their country.

"I'm not scared at all," Salvador said. "It's a big challenge and I'm more than happy to face it."

Sergio also said he's excited, not scared.

"I'll be a part of history," Sergio said. "If I make it home - hopefully, I do make it home - I'll be a hero.

"It's great to be someone's hero."

denise.nix@dailybreeze.com

Ellie