Army recruits Cyd Ah Mook Sang, left, and Marivel Garcia meet with Army Sgt. 1st Class Frank Norris at the Army recruiting station at Pearlridge Center.

Ready to serve

Benefits, training and patriotism
spur islanders to join the military

By Gregg K. Kakesako

It's more the promise of benefits, financial security and job training that draws recruits to the military rather than the desire to fight in another war in Iraq.

But Army Sgt. 1st Class Frank Norris, first sergeant of the Honolulu Recruiting Company, said patriotism still ranks high with recruits in Hawaii, which has a sizable military population.

"This is a military state," said Norris, who has been working at the recruiting station at Pearlridge Center for 18 months. "The majority of our recruits are family members of the military. They know what is going on."

Recruiters here report that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and prospects for another war with Iraq aren't drawing more recruits to the Army or the Navy, but they say they continue to do their usual steady business.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Brandon Ward, who supervises Navy recruiting in the Pacific, said Hawaii has always done well.

"We are always above our quotas," Ward said. "We stay strong no matter what happens in the world."

Ward, a Persian Gulf Desert Storm veteran and a Navy recruiter for 12 years, also cited Hawaii's military population as a reason recruiters here do so well.

Norris, 39, however doesn't downplay a desire to serve.

"This is a very, very patriotic state," said Norris, who has been an Army recruiter for 12 of the 17 years he has been in uniform.

Last week, David Siebert, 17, was at the Army's recruiting office at Pearlridge contemplating a six-year hitch in the Army Reserve. He cited benefits such as getting the Army to pay for a community college or technical school training "to help me learn a skill to start my own business."

"I want to work on cars and paint them," said Siebert, who came to the islands 18 months ago from Montana when his father, an Army Reserve officer, was called to active duty at Camp Smith.

Siebert said all the talk of another Iraqi war doesn't bother him. "I'm willing to serve my country and say thank you to it. ... It would be a good experience for me."

Cyd Ah Mook Sang, a 1999 Aiea High School graduate, plans to get married next week before he has to report for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.

"When you're called to duty, that's your sworn duty," said Ah Mook Sang, 21. "That's what you signed up to do: to serve and protect the country."

But it was the benefits that attracted him to the Army.

"The benefits are good and so are the opportunities," he said. "It opens doors."

Ah Mook Sang said he tried attending Leeward Community College after graduation and held different jobs before settling on the Army with the hope of becoming a medical specialist.

"I am hoping to work at something so I can help my kids," he said, noting that being the eldest of 10 kids growing up in Aiea and getting a job early to help his parents wasn't easy. "I want to give my children stuff and experiences I never had."

Marivel Garcia and her identical twin sister, Mirella, joined the Army under "the buddy system," in which they are guaranteed to be kept together from basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., their advanced infantry training through their first duty station.

She cited the Army's educational benefits and financial security as reasons for enlisting.

"This will give a lot of benefits. It will give me more confidence to do a lot more," said Garcia, who hopes the Army will give her training in finances, which she can later use as a civilian.

She said she was influenced by her brother-in-law, who now serves at Tripler Army Medical Center and who encouraged the two of them to move to Hawaii from California in October.

Under the Army's delayed entry program, Garcia and her sister don't have to report for basic training until late this fall, which means she could miss a war in Iraq.

"I haven't thought about that much," said Garcia, 23. "But I would go (to war); that's one of the reasons I signed up. ... I don't really want to go, but I know that it is part of the job."

Ray Graham, Army recruiting spokesman here, said the Army with 485,000 soldiers is the largest service in the military with the widest range of benefits. These benefits range from a $50,000 signing bonus for a six-year enlistment to payments for college and technical education.

However, Ward said that although the Navy may not have as many jobs as the other services, the ones that are offered are more specific and "highly technical," resulting in a better bonus, running up to $50,000, for sailors who re-enlist in certain fields.

That's the reason the Navy recruiting here has always been up, he said. "Even after 9/11, I didn't see a large influx of people coming in. ... For us, it's been pretty steady across the country."

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