Re-enlistments on the rise

Monday, January 26, 2009
Ashley Friend, 20, center, inspects rifle during a weapons familiarizing course Saturday at the National Guard Armory in Jackson. National Guard new enlistments have the Recruit Sustainment Program once a month prior to leaving for basic training. Matthew Tompkins, left, and Joshua O'Donnell also inspect a rifle in the foreground.

Area recruiters say enlistments and re-enlistments in the U.S. armed forces are on the rise in Southeast Missouri.

Despite other areas of the country reporting the tough economic times as a driving force for a rise in enlistments, area recruiters say that's not the case here.

"I haven't really noticed the economy playing a role here in terms of people wanting to enlist or re-enlist," said Staff Sgt. Steven Bell with the Missouri National Guard office in Cape Girardeau. "But when people lose their jobs the military remains strong. While it hasn't really been a major factor, I can see where it could play a role in the future."

Bell said that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, his office has seen a steady increase in enlistments. Since 2007 about 100 people from the area have enlisted to serve in the National Guard.

Sgt. John F. Silwanus with the Marine Corps recruiting station in St. Louis reported an increase from 895 enlistments in 2006 to 1,014 last year.

SSG Jeremy McGuire explains to new enlistments how Preventive Maintenance Check Systems become part of the weekly routine of vehicle upkeep in the military Saturday, January 24, 2009, at the National Guard Armory in Jackson.

"We haven't seen an effect from the economy," said Silwanus, whose recruitment area includes eastern Missouri, three-fourths of Illinois and northeast Arkansas. "We have a different sort of mentality. We offer hard work and dedication and that will get them a mentality of earning."

The increase in Southeast Missouri and the St. Louis area mirrors a nationwide trend.

For December, the U.S. Army signed 860 new active-duty soldiers, nearly 115 percent of its target number of 750 enlistees. The Army also met or passed goals for October and November, meaning it has done so for the entire first quarter of budget year 2009.

The U.S. Navy signed 2,306 new active-duty sailors in December; the Marine Corps signed 2,392 and the U.S. Air Force signed 2,967. All six National Guard and reserve forces also met or exceeded their December recruiting goals.

Plans are to boost the active-duty Army by 65,000 soldiers to a total of 547,000 by 2010. The Marines are aiming to grow from 175,000 to 202,000 by 2010.

Former Marine Ryan Welch believes that goal could be achieved sooner. He enlisted in the Missouri National Guard on Sept. 10. He said the financial aid the National Guard provides goes a long way toward meeting his expenses. His benefits include a bonus, full-tuition scholarship at Southeast Missouri State University and monthly paycheck.

But even more important, Welch said, are the experiences he has had in the armed forces.

"The military makes you into a man," Welch said. "I'm able to protect my homeland and hold a job at the same time, which is great."

In addition to the benefits, Bell said recruits are able to serve their local community and country in a time of crisis.

The National Guard's 2008 response efforts included the February ice storms and Hurricane Gustav. Bell said the feeling from helping their neighbors is priceless for servicemen and women.

"Since we first started getting involved the war in Afghanistan, the interest has increased and a lot of that has to do with the patriotic side of Americans," said Staff Sgt. Steven Bell. "I see brothers and sisters wanting to follow in their parents' footsteps."

Jesse Weaver of Jackson was a corporal in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006, but opted not to re-enlist because of burn out. Three years later he is considering re-enlisting in the Army Special Forces unit.

"I've had a couple of different jobs since then but none of them seemed to be anything that were meaningful," said Weaver, who was based in Hawaii, California, Singapore and Iraq. "Serving my country is more of an obligation I have, and we still have more to accomplish."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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