Signing up for the military: Recruiters cite problems here

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 1, 2001

Army JROTC cadets, from left, Sgt. Kevin McGowan, Sgt. Stephen Banks, Staff Sgt. Aaron Whitten and 2nd Lt. Leonard Walker present arms during a drill practice last week at Vicksburg High School. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/01/01] Vicksburg is known for its military history, but an inability to pass standardized tests and a lack of patriotism may be keeping many young people from signing up.

The Senate Armed Services Committee reported in April that four branches of the armed forces Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were able to meet recruiting goals in 2000, but it was only the third time in 10 years they have all been able to do so.

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In Vicksburg, Petty Officer William Parker with the local Navy recruiting office said his goals are to enlist four or five people a month, but he has enlisted only eight to 10 people in the year-and-a-half he’s been recruiting in Warren, Claiborne and Copiah counties, Jackson and several parishes in Louisiana.

Parker said he believes young people don’t feel as strongly about serving in the armed forces as they did at one time.

“Society has changed on how America is appreciated,” Parker said. “The upcoming generation seems to take freedom for granted. The good economy may have something to do with that.”

Another recruiting barrier is passing the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, now required by all branches.

The ASVAB is a 10-part general knowledge test consisting of categories such as math, science, and word knowledge.

“The biggest problem now days is passing the ASVAB,” Parker said.

Test scores have also been a problem for Marine recruiting in the area, Sgt. Phillip Staten said.

He said he thinks the casinos are the biggest competition to the Armed Forces in Vicksburg.

“It’s easier to get a job at the boats,” Staten said. “They don’t require as high of standards as the Marines, so often kids go there for jobs.”

The Marines now give preliminary entrance exams to assess a potential recruit’s ability to pass. Of five students Staten saw one week, only two passed the practice ASVAB.

Cheri Williams, an education counselor at Vicksburg High School, said the school doesn’t actually prepare students for the ASVAB, but they do have practice books on hand to give to students interested in joining the military and allow recruiters to come to school and talk to students.

Sgt. William Spence of the Army recruiting office said he averages eight to 12 recruits a month and, while passing the ASVAB can be a concern, school programs such as ROTC have enabled many students to meet standards.

“The schools aren’t encouraging students to join the military, but they have been supportive,” Spence said.

At least 13 students from Vicksburg High School said they have decided to make the military a part of their future and are getting a step ahead through their school’s Army ROTC program.

The program promotes loyalty and patriotism and students learn about the military lifestyle through designated ranks, military drills and a strict schedule.

“I’ve learned discipline, and it’s taught me about my goals,” said Cadet Maj. David Becker, a junior at VHS. “My parents didn’t have the money to send me to college, and this is the only opportunity I had.”

Becker said he wants to attend college before pursuing a career in the Army. Indeed, only three of the 13 anticipated joining the service directly after high school.

One of them, Darryl Washington, graduated last month and is going into the Army.

“The reason I was in ROTC was to develop leadership skills that I plan to use when I enter the Army this summer,” Washington said. “I plan to go to the Army for four years and then go to college, and then re-enter the Army as a second lieutenant.”

The Vicksburg Air Force recruiting office began operation just a week-and-a-half ago under Master Sgt. Tim Barber and although the Air Force offers much of the same benefits as the other branches, it also requires the highest ASVAB passing score.

Master Sgt. Robert Bishop said he understands the Air Force will have to work a little harder to find qualified recruits because of the higher test scores required, but has goals of about three recruits a month in this area.

“We go out and try to find people who can do it,” Bishop said. “I think we shouldn’t have too much trouble meeting the goal, because Sgt. Barber is an extremely successful recruiter.”