Armed forces a tough sell to new grads
North Summit, South Summit and Park City High School seniors will graduate within a month and traditionally, the armed forces have been a steady occupational option. But with extended deployments of troops in Iraq and daily reports of soldier deaths, military service may not have the spit-shine it had in the past.
It is not just students who have to be convinced, it is also their parents, who have the right to refuse a recruiter access to their sons and daughters until they turn 18.
"The kids are receptive," said Sgt. Terrance Pohl, the Army National Guard recruiter for Summit County’s three high schools. "It’s their parents who are tough cookies to crack. Parents will deny their kids going in Mom and Dad are watching way too much TV. What they see is, ‘you’re going to Iraq, and you’re going to die."’
Pohl says that the situation in the Middle East isn’t the only parental perception he has to overcome. Soldier stereotypes is another.
"The secret is finding a way to show Mom and Dad that joining doesn’t mean you are automatically going to become a drinking, spitting, smoking womanizer," he said. We’ve had two Mormon bishops join."
Seventeen-year-olds may join the armed services with parental permission. At 18 the decision becomes theirs to make.
" I’m sitting on seven students right now who have told me, ‘I’m going to join once I get out of school,’" Pohl said.
But that is not happening at South Summit High School, where Principal Gary Twitchell knows of no students planning military service upon graduation.
"For the first time we haven’t had two or three kids (seniors) considering the armed services at the end of the school year," Twitchell said. He speculated that it is because of the war in Iraq.
Twitchell said recruiters from the Army National Guard and Marines set up tables in the high school six or seven times a school year, passing out literature and answering questions. Also, he said the armed forces offer a test called the ASVAB at the high school that measures aptitude and abilities. Students who meet military criteria are notified of their qualifications.
Despite an apparent decline in interest in the military by students, qualifications have changed little. Private Nelson Young, an assistant recruiter with the U.S. Army, said recruits must have a GED or high school diploma, be in good physical shape, have committed no felonies, and have only minor violations of the law, with no dependency on medications.
Pohl, who also is an assistant wrestling coach at South Summit High School. He said that students must show an interest before Guard recruiters will show an interest in them. A South Summit wrestler planned to join the National Guard, but suffered an injury, delaying the process.
PCHS councilor Jerry Fiat did not know how many PCHS students were considering the military.
Park City High School student Prescott McCarthy, a senior, said of student interest in the armed forces, "I can’t think of anyone who’s interested. Not in this town. Park City is liberal town, and this is such a liberal school." Regarding recruiters he said,"They come here all the time. They give out free shirts and pencils. A few kids were way stoked, saying, ‘look at all the cool stuff I got.’"
But there are a few takers. Senior Jared Tew is entering officer candidate school in the Air Force Academy, June 28, and hopes to become a pilot. It is not as if he doesn’t have other options. He is involved with extracurricular activities such as Future Business leaders of America, and was originally recruited to play football for the Air Force. He said his parents were "a little iffy" about his joining at first, but after visiting Air Force facilities with him, "they were all for it."
Tew added that he also knows of at least one student who will join the Marines upon graduation.
Adam Whitworth, a junior at PCHS, plans to eventually apply to the Coast Guard Academy. He said his family has a tradition of serving in the military. "I owe it to my country," he said. He knows of no one else in the school considering the armed forces. "I knew a few people who wanted to be pilots a while back, but they aren’t talking about it anymore. The war has really turned people off. The public view of the military has deeply changed."
Corporal Lathrop, the marketing and public affairs director of the Marine recruiting station in Salt Lake City, said the Marines are "as successful as ever recruiting. There is a level of patriotism in schools. Marines have an appeal not everyone has. Students want to become leaders."
Based on past years, Lathrop predicted three to five students may join the Marines after graduation from the three Summit County schools combined.
"We sell a way of life, but it’s a hard life to buy into."
Private Young, who recruits from the three high schools, said that the numbers of students joining the Army after graduation is "classified," but added, "We have a few here and there."
PCHS sophomore Amy Edwards speculated on why she knows of no one interested in the armed services. "I think they can find something better and get more money without dying in the process."
From Sgt. Pohl’s perspective, "I’m just trying to help somebody find a better way of life.
Two people indicated in interviews they are considering mounting campaigns for the Park City Council, a signal the City Hall election could attract an intriguing slate of candidates in a year when the majority of the five seats are on the ballot.