Recruitment of locals falls with conflict

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

[3/21/03]Solicitation of Army recruits from the Vicksburg area has become more difficult since Monday, two days before the United States began war with Iraq, a recruiter said this morning.

“We have been getting no one,” said Sgt. Rob Pabel, a recruiter based in the Army recruiting office, 1990 S. Frontage Road. In a typical hour a recruiter makes about 25 phone calls, yielding about two or three possibilities of further interest among current high school seniors or those who have graduated in the past five years.

Since Monday, by which time it had become apparent that the war on Iraq that began Wednesday night was imminent, that number has dropped by a large percentage, Pabel said.

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The Army, the largest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, has five recruiters, including two for reservists, stationed here, Pabel said.

The U.S. Air Force’s one recruiter for Vicksburg, Sgt. Denise Penland, said she has not been able to gauge interest in her service since before this week, but she has talked with other recruiters recently at Keesler Air Force Base on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“The interest seems to be there,” she said. “There is a definite increase in the number of people saying, Tell me if I’m eligible.'”

She said the Air Force is seeking recruits in the areas of mechanics and electronics. The Air Force’s educational and other requirements are relatively strict, she said, and that limits her ability to recruit.

Meanwhile, at the Vicksburg Fire Department, two of the five firefighters currently deployed, Lts. Jeff Cockrell and Shane Quimby, were motivated by the prospect of war to re-enter the service, Deputy Chief Mark Ettinger said.

“They said they felt like they wanted to do their part to defend the country,” Ettinger said.

At Warren Central High School, Navy JROTC Cmdr. Jim Dooley said the program’s goal is not to recruit for the military but to educate students on why the United States has a Department of Defense.

“They have to understand what the factors are in a situation like this so they can vote accordingly,” he said. “That’s how the country works. They’re citizens, and they need to let their elected officials know how they feel.”

The JROTC program was begun by Congress in 1966 to help “kids understand why he have a military during the Vietnam years,” he said.

Former President George Bush included the JROTC as one of his 1,000 Points of Light, and the program is still expanding, he said.

“We attempt to educate as many youngsters as we can,” he said.

Asked if the Army had increased its recruiting goals, Sgt. Vincent Hopkins of the local Army recruiting office said such decisions were made at a higher level.

“If we need to put in x’ number of people, I’m working at what they tell me to get,” he said.

“Every day people come into the Army and leave the Army,” he said. “If it were not for other recruiters like Sgt. Pabel and me trying to keep America strong, where would we be right now?”