Monday, June 20, 2005

Nicholas Cone, 19, got information Friday from recruiter Boatswain's Mate Chief Calvin Williams at the Coast Guard recruitment office across from Pearlridge Center.

Mideast war drives isle
recruits to Coast Guard

Locally and nationally, Army and
Marine sign-ups are dropping

Immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, hundreds signed up to serve in the military. But today, as the war in Iraq continues to claim American lives and many see no quick way out of the conflict, recruitment numbers for the Army and Marines have cooled considerably.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard -- in Hawaii and nationwide -- is picking up more recruits than ever before and, for some, is becoming an alternative to the military branches whose members are more likely to see combat.

"Recruiting is easy-peasy-peasy," longtime recruiter Master Chief Gerod Victorine said recently, with a laugh, from the Coast Guard's small recruiting office in Pearlridge Center, which serves all of the state, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia and parts of Guam.

"Sometimes the phone in this office does not stop ringing."

To many, it's no surprise that Coast Guard recruiters, locally and nationally, have met and surpassed quotas consistently since the 2001 attacks. For one, the Coast Guard is smaller than the military services, and so are its recruitment goals.

In addition, the likelihood of being thrown into active combat in Iraq as a member of the Coast Guard is minimal, though its members have participated in some dangerous anti-terrorism and drug missions in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Still, Victorine said, the fact that the Coast Guard is continuing to rake in recruits and has a local waiting list for boot camp and certain positions -- even as the Army and Marines fall further behind in meeting quotas -- is significant because it shows, among other things, that though the fervor in America to sign up for military service might have waned in the last four years, it has not disappeared.

"Patriotism has come up. People want to serve the military, but I don't think the Army is on the top of list," he said. "The war is getting too long."

THE POSSIBILITY of getting deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan substantially diminished Ross Schaffer's interest in the Army and sent him to the Coast Guard recruiting office in February, where he signed up to get on a waiting list for boot camp.

Reaching goals

The Coast Guard is meeting and exceeding recruiting quotas locally and nationally, even as the Army is struggling to attract recruits with the war in Iraq ongoing. Here are local and national Coast Guard quota numbers compared with enlistment totals for February to April, the latest month for which information is available:

Honolulu Feb. March April

Quota 4 5 5

Enlisted 8 3 4

National Feb. March April

Quota 315 370 260

Enlisted 290 348 266

Three months later he was admitted.

"I really like the idea of not going to war," said Schaffer in a telephone conversation from a Coast Guard cutter in San Diego. "I always knew that the military was always a good deal to get into financial-wise ... but with the Coast Guard, you know 99 percent you're not going overseas at all. It feels a little more safe to join."

Army and Marine officials have blamed disappointing recruitment numbers on the war in Iraq, saying young people are not jumping at the chance to go into battle and are also being deterred by parents.

Locally, Army recruiters are often falling well below monthly goals.

From January to March, 126 people in the islands joined the Army -- just half of the branch's quota for that period, according to Army Recruiting Office spokesman Peter DeLauzon. The Army Reserve fared even worse, signing on 65 people during the same three months, at the end of which they had hoped to attract 151.

Victorine, who has been a Coast Guard recruiter since 1974, said that many of the potential recruits he talks to have thought about the Army and Marines but want to first try their luck with the Coast Guard. "I always ask, 'Why are you checking out the Coast Guard?' And they tell me, 'I want the benefits.' What people see in the news, they hear all the negative, and it's turning them off to joining the Army."

Others also like the idea of working on homeland security issues.

After the 2001 attacks, the Coast Guard changed its primary mission from search and rescue operations to law enforcement. In 2003 it was moved under the Department of Homeland Security from the Transportation Department.

Last month, Victorine needed just 10 more recruits to meet his 50-person quota requirement for the year. His office has met or exceeded goals for 23 of the 43 months from Oct. 1, 2001, through April, the latest month for which information was available.

Nationally, goals have been met or exceeded in 25 months during the same period.

In August 2003, 12 recruits signed up in Honolulu -- three times the office's quota. In February, Victorine got eight recruits -- double the number he needed. He said he is now processing people for boot camp "from several months back," as classes fill up on a first-come, first-served basis and fill up fast.

Also, Victorine said the wealth of recruits has meant that the Coast Guard can be more selective with whom it admits, putting those with no previous skills on waiting lists and shuffling others with professional backgrounds into particular jobs.

At the Pearlridge Coast Guard recruiting office Friday, Nicholas Cone was getting information from a recruiter after being referred by a friend. The recent high school graduate, who is taking classes at Leeward Community College, said he did consider joining the Army but was persuaded not to by "the whole war and (the possibility of) going out to Iraq."

After watching an informational video about the Coast Guard, he is still interested and would like to go into ship navigation. He said he will likely make up his mind whether to join in a few weeks.

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