Wednesday morning, U.S. Army Secretary Peter Geren (we hadn’t heard of him either) presided over a special ceremony at the Times Square Recruiting Station to mark the Army’s announcement that, even amid two wars, it has surpassed its recruitment goals for the past three years now (even if it’s had to admit more high-school dropouts and criminal and medical waivers to get there). Tim Murphy talked to a handful of new recruits headed for boot camp: four local boys and one Goth girl from Alabama in New York for the first time, all ages 17 to 23.
Chris Biener, 21, Bohemia, Long Island:
New York: So you leave for Army Reserves boot camp next Monday. What’ll you do until then?
CB: Hang out with some friends.
New York: What have you been doing up to now?
CB: I went to Stonybrook University and played football there for the first semester, then I went to Suffolk Community College, then I started working and going to school, back and forth, then I decided to do this.
New York: Why didn’t you stay in college?
CB: I kept switching my major, which kept putting me back. So I worked at a swimming-pool store.
New York: Why are you joining the military?
CB: I almost did it straight out of high school, but my parents wanted me to go to college. I always wanted to join growing up.
New York: Why?
CB: I’ve always played sports, but there’s no team after high school. So this is a big team to join.
New York: What’s your big dream?
CB: I’m going to be an LPN, a nurse. So when I get out [of the military], I know I’ll get a good job. And if I stay in, there’ll always be people who need help.
New York: We’re in two wars right now. You may go and be seriously physically or mentally damaged or die. Does that affect your decision?
CB: I used to think about it, but then I realized I’ll be trained enough to probably get away from that situation, so if it happens, it happens.
New York: How would you characterize the situation [in Iraq] right now?
CB: We should be there, but the people don’t want us there. It’s kind of up in the air.
New York: Should we reinstitute the draft?
CB: No, I think the turnout’s positive enough with volunteer people. With a draft you have an Army with people who don’t want to be there. If it’s volunteer, you’ll get 100 percent out of all of them.
New York: Would you pick Iraq or Afghanistan to be deployed to?
CB: Iraq. There seems to be more going on. It’d be more fun. As a nurse, there’d be more jobs for me to do.
Yosero Kim, 17, high-school senior, Dix Hills:
New York: So you leave for boot camp next July. What’ll you do till then? Finish high school?
YK: Keep my grades up. I’m applying to West Point. And if I don’t get in, I’ll enlist in the regular Army.
New York: Why did you join?
YK: I’ve wanted to ever since I was an infant. There’s a picture of me back when I was one or two with a model M-16 [gun] and camouflage.
New York: What drew you to it?
YK: The uniform and the Army way of life. It’s very strict and disciplined and that’s what I like.
New York: And what do you most want to do?
YK: Jump out of planes. I’ve gone parachuting in Florida, which was quite fun.
New York: We’re in two wars and who knows, we could be in more. Thousands of military folks have died. Does that affect your desire to do this?
YK: To a certain extent, but it just motivates me harder to work for my country.
New York: Do you feel that Iraq is a worthy cause?
YK: I support the decision that the president makes. So I’m all for it.
New York: Does the prospect of being deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan excite or scare you?
YK: It excites me. I want to see combat, and I want to experience the life-or-death situations in battle.
New York: Okay. Who are you supporting in the election?
YK: I support both candidates. And whoever gets elected, I’ll support them fully.
New York: Does the military not allow you to have a preference?
YK: [nervous laugh] Yes, sir.
New York: Are you serious?
YK: It’s in the Constitution. We’re not to publicly speak of the parties that we support.
New York: It’s in the Constitution? I didn’t know that. Well, how do you chill out when you’re not preparing for the military?
YK: I love running. I usually run ten miles a day.
Joseph Rios, 19, Bronx:
New York: So you’re going to boot camp for the National Guard October 22 and you enlisted and got in all in one day, May 29. Why’d you choose the National Guard?
JR: It has the best educational and future benefits.
New York: What’s your ultimate goal?
JR: To become a high-ranking National Guard officer.
New York: What draws you to that?
JR: The honor and being a leader.
New York: Have you wanted to join the military since you were little?
JR: Yes. It’s part of our family history. My grandfather was a Marine in the Korean War, and my uncle got a Purple Heart in Korea.
New York: There’s been protesting in the Bronx over the military recruiting low-income minority kids. What do you think of that?
JR: I took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, and I’ll stand by my word.
New York: Okay. So you’re signing up amid two wars. You could be deployed and die or come back with really serious physical- or mental-health issues.
JR: I understand that. I know it’s a sacrifice, but I wanted to pay it for this country. I’m confident that with the training I’ll receive, I’ll be prepared in the situation.
New York: So what will you miss most about New York?
JR: This [gestures around at Times Square].
Javier Rios, 23, Bronx:
New York: So you ship to join the National Guard the same day as your brother, October 22. Do you guys get along?
JR: Pretty much. We don’t bump heads that much.
New York: So what have you been doing since you finished high school?
JR: I’m a loader for Pepsi-Cola.
New York: How does your mom feel about you guys joining? Is she scared?
JR: Here and there. She hears the stories. But she’s been extremely supportive.
New York: You could die or be seriously injured if you’re deployed. Does that daunt you?
JR: It’s all a possibility, but I took an oath and I’m ready for everything.
New York: But did that cross your mind before the oath?
JR: Kinda. A little bit of uncertainty.
New York: So what made you go for it?
JR: It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You only live once.
New York: What’s the first word that comes to your mind when I say, “Iraq.”
JR: I think of all the brave soldiers out there doing their daily tasks and duty defending our country.
New York: Do you have a personal choice for president even if you can’t state it publicly?
JR: I have my eye on one.
New York: Can you tell me who it is?
JR: I’d rather not.
New York: So your girlfriend Yolanda’s here with you. Yolanda, how do you feel about him leaving?
Y: Whatever helps him better himself, I’m for it.
New York: Did you ask him not to go?
Y: Yeah. Nobody wants their boyfriend to leave. But I support him whatever he decides.
New York: Is there something special you want to do with him before he leaves?
Y: Go to Jekyll and Hyde [the Village bar] for Halloween.
Danielle Cote, 17, Enterprise, Alabama:
New York: Are you enterprising, being from Enterprise?
DC: I’m happy to be here and represent my high school. I’m a senior. This is my first time in New York. I’m shipping off to boot camp for the National Guard on June 15.
New York: Why are you doing this?
DC: I wanted to serve my country and get education and have the military experience. And to travel and see the world.
New York: You have a goth-alt look that makes me think you’d be a military-protester type.
DC: Usually I am decked out in chains, but no. I enjoy the military, and I’m proud to be a part of it. To me this was the best route to go. They’re putting me through college, and I’ll get to see the world.
New York: Do you think that the military’s ban on being openly gay should be dropped, like Obama says he may aim for?
DC: To me the policy is pretty good. Leave it as it is. I don’t have a strong opinion about that.
Nearby female recruiter: We don’t really have [inaudible] political opinions, as you can understand.
New York: Danielle, is it strange for you not to be able to offer a personal opinion at an age where most people are bursting with them?
DC: No, it’s probably better, because I don’t think right now I have enough experience to be talking about a lot of things.
New York: Okay. What’s your ultimate goal?
DC: To either go into forensics or be a doctor. And I’d like to see a couple more states than just Alabama and get a feel for how the U.S. is.
New York: Did the fact that we’re in two wars play into your opinion to join?
DC: The war didn’t really bother me. It had my mom a little worried. But then once she talked to my recruiter, everything was settled and she was pretty at ease with me joining.
New York: Do you get to keep your goth look?
DC: In basic training there’s not any makeup and my hair has to be put up in a bun. But otherwise I’m allowed to have it any way I want it as long as it’s not too many different colors.