The recruiters’ lair

When I entered the army recruiting office on Dimond Boulevard, I received three strong handshakes and one question: "Thinking of joining the army?"

Hesitation. I told them my reason for visiting the recruiting station was just to discover the process. This didn't deter the recruiter in any way.

He turned on a computer to show me an informational video about the army. It began with an inspirational speech and a waving American flag. It was followed by head-bopping modern music with flashy scenes and no words.

Sgt. Mark Lynch and I watched the images of battle training, shooting, tanks and brutal, real-life fighting. The scenes can be called violent, and they can be called motivational. Lynch simply made enthusiastic comments.

After answering his questions, my curiosity was also satisfied. Lynch spoke of how the station has received calls to join in response to a higher sense of patriotism; however, the calls are not of the high school generation, but of the mid-20s age group who are wanting to sign up for army special forces and military intelligence. He said that college aid and money were the common reasons for enlisting prior to Sept. 11.

Jason Sheaffer, a former army infantry soldier, recalls his journey through the recruiting process. He remembers taking the armed services vocational aptitude battery test in high school in Pennsylvania, which was proctored by different branch recruiters. Sheaffer and other classmates finished early and were approached by a recruiter.

"They asked us, you want to go outside and finish your time doing push ups?" Sheaffer said. "I don't know why I didn't stay home that day, my life would be totally different."

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After passing the ASVAB, a recruiter tracked him down and persuaded him to join with a promise of a new and exciting life. Sheaffer made his vows and finished high school in 1996.

"They try to be real nice when you actually join," he said.

Following high school he signed the papers and was off on a bus. He didn't even have to actually step into a recruiting station; they came to him and his life changed.

In an office shrouded in camouflage net, Sgt. A.R. Dervaes of the Marine recruiting office gladly spoke about his love for the armed forces and how he handles potential recruits. He said that the reasons for joining should be immaterial like courage, commitment and challenge.

Dervaes says he was also flooded with phone calls on the day of the attacks. He says the calls came from recent recruits and their families, eager applicants and former Marines, up to age 70, wanting to rejoin. Although the calls were valued, Dervaes says most applicants were not qualified.

Sheaffer was very qualified to join the army; however, he says he believes his recruiters still did their job wrong. Sheaffer, who is working on being a certified public safety dispatcher in Anchorage, says he feels like he was promised something he never got. The army never let him switch into the dream job he was promised.

"The recruiters told me I could be a military police officer, but that was impossible, I soon found out," Sheaffer said. "My life became hell after that."

Dervaes says his job is to make sure the candidate has walked in the door for the right reasons. He says this is to protect fellow Marines from someone whose mistaken enlistment could ultimately put others in danger. He stressed that the Marine Corps is a tough branch and he wouldn't want to see anyone miserable.

Dervaes says that the war on terrorism hasn't changed recruiting policies. In fact, he says the job is even more important now.

"We are the first line of defense."