Graduation Season Keeps Recruiters Busy

DECATUR, Ala. — Robert Maguire Pope was thrilled to receive his high school diploma at Hartselle High School recently, but he said it will pale in comparison to what awaited him Tuesday in Nashville.

“Definitely holding up my hand being sworn in to the U.S. Army will be a much bigger deal,” the 18-year-old said.
Pope signed up for the Army during his junior year in high school, becoming a fourth-generation family member to serve in that branch of military.

“Some of my friends told me I was crazy for going into the military,” he said. “I know it’s not for everyone. At 17 years old, I decided I am willing to lay down my life for this country so the people can have the freedom to do what they want to do.”

The recruiters of four military branches – Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army – in Decatur said they’ll be hearing more stories as such in the next few weeks. This is the busy season for recruiters, with school ending and many graduates unsure about their career paths.

The recruiters are each expecting about 20 recruits to join during June and July. But if recent graduates think they’ll be shipping out a few days after signing on the dotted line, they’ll be disappointed, recruiters said.
Army recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Berger said it usually takes four to six weeks to process graduates who are not part of the delayed enlistment program like Pope. Berger said 17 days is the quickest processing time he has seen recently.

“There are plenty of things to take care of once we have them signed,” Berger said. “There are the car payment schedules, cellphone billing, bank paperwork. Sometimes recruits need a couple of weeks to leave a job.”
He said he also sees signups in October while visiting area schools. But not all potential recruits, those with fresh diplomas or older ones, are eligible to enlist.

The recruiters said prospective recruits must pass aptitude, physical and medical tests. The military requires at least a 31 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test known as ASVAB. The higher the score, the better the chance at receiving bonuses and select career opportunities, the recruiters said.

And those trendy tattoos will keep some from qualifying, the recruiters said. They said people with tattoos on the neck and above and/or below wrists to fingers need not apply. Most armed forces are allowing enlistees to have tattoos on arms, legs, chest and back.

“No Mike Tyson tattoos,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Joshua Riffe, a local recruiter. “(Tattoos) are a cultural thing. The Air Force is seeing a big influx of kids with tattoos. Most are allowed, but anything on the face is a definite no-go.”

Also, recruits with asthma, childhood ADHD and weight issues might need medical clearance to enlist.
Recruiters believe President Donald Trump’s effort to increase military spending by $54 billion could lead to higher foot traffic in their offices. Democrats in Washington have said they will fight the spending increase.
The Air Force has lightened up on qualifications this past year, Riffe said. “The Air Force is upping its size, too,” he said. “We anticipate a bigger number of kids coming to us to join. We offer college and job skills to our personnel. They’re doing both at the same time.”

Nuclear Machinist Mate Second Class Justin Chisholm, the local Navy recruiter, said he sees fewer recruits because of the heavy presence of Army JROTC in north Alabama.

“However, I feel all of the recruiters here will help young men and women thinking about a career in the military,” Chisholm said. “High school kids need someone to point them in the right direction sometimes. I believe everyone should serve our nation, but not be required to do so.”

The area recruiters said Brewer, East Lawrence, Hartselle and Austin high schools probably provide the most students interested in signing up.

Chisholm encourages prospective recruits to visit each branch’s recruiting office “to hear what they have to offer.” He said the young adults visiting the recruiting offices should show some initiative.

Some branches offer early or delayed enlistment bonuses. Some have enlistment ages as late as 38.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Schuh said his branch is not about luring recruits with incentives.

“We don’t sell programs, jobs, education, bonuses,” he said. “We might have them, but our No. 1 priority is them being a Marine.”

Schuh said his office has sent about 15 to boot camp in the past 90 to 120 days. “In the next 90-120, we’ll send 30-35,” he said, adding about 65 percent of his signups are from Morgan County.

Berger encourages young men and women leaving high school to stay out of legal trouble if they are considering the military.

“Stay away from drugs, possession, DUI,” he said. “Drug anything at all will permanently make you ineligible for most if not all branches of service.”

Pope said he enjoys the thought of travel and making the Army his career. He said his basic training will begin in Fort Benning, Georgia.

“I want to see the world,” he said. “I don’t plan to stay in Hartselle, Alabama. I plan to serve my country, save my money and open a fitness gym one day.”

For those Army recruits wanting to stay near their homes, the Army Reserve is an option.

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Cain said 38 total days a year are required. He said weekend reporting sites are in Sheffield and Huntsville.

“We want (the recruits) to tell us their life goals,” Cain said. “We’ll show them how to achieve those.”

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