Connecticut public high schools have become a familiar territory for military recruiters.
At Conard High School in West Hartford, Nolan Asadow, a junior, said that he sees recruiters from all service branches giving away branded merchandise and speaking to any student interested in learning more about military service.
“I see the recruiters in the cafeteria and in the halls at my school about once a month,” he said.
One reason that they’re in Connecticut high schools so often is because there are so few people eligible to serve.
According to the U.S Army Recruiting Command, there are 33.4 million Americans age 17 to 24 and only a little less than 140,000 of them are eligible for service when whittled down by standards, quality and interest.
The military has approximately 2.2 million Americans serving, including those in the Reserves. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr explained to ABC’s news affiliate in Washington, D.C, WJLA, that the military needs 80,000 Americans each year to replenish itself, and with 140,000 eligible Americans, recruiters are trying even harder in smaller states like Connecticut to reach that 80,000 mark.
Derek Torrellas, a 2004 graduate of Morgan High School in Clinton, spent 14 years as a helicopter crew chief and door gunner in the U.S Marine Corps. He’s been deployed to Iraq twice, and to Afghanistan for nine months. He was called by a Marine recruiter before he graduated and at the time didn’t think the Marines was going to be a fit for him. But he went to the local recruiter office to get more information and ended up enlisting.
“There is also a certain aura about the Marine Corps that I knew about since I was very young. Their fighting spirit, tough exterior, the fact that they were just ‘different’,” he said.
Simsbury resident Jay Bell, 44, enlisted through the Marines in 1993 and then went to college for a year through the ROTC program.
“I was approached on school grounds by a Navy recruiter,” he explained, “as well as called at home by both the Navy and Army.”
At Hartford’s Pearl Street Army recruiting office, Sgt. Emanuel Lopez said the Army is stepping up efforts to try and enlist more people. He said the Army is offering a $40,000 sign-on bonus and financial aid for college. He also said the Army can give enlistees “a stable future and job security.”
“We first ask them what they are looking to do in the future and show them how the military can help them,” Lopez said.
Torrellas advised students to always keep an open mind when it comes to major decisions like joining the military, and to ask lots of questions of the recruiter and never to make unreasonable assumptions on what the military is like.
“A student should go and talk to a recruiter with an open mind. If you create an expectation for yourself based on what you believe the military will be like, it is harder to come to terms with what the reality could be,” he said.
“The recruiter’s job is to talk with people,” Torrellas said, “and sometimes that could mean talking to hundreds of students to find one that will join. So, if a student is interested, I would advise them to ask as many questions of the recruiter as they need to get the answers they are looking for.”
Owen Wood is a student at Conard High School, West Hartford.