Sons and daughters of the Valley of the Sun answer the call to service

A wall inside the Scottsdale Army Recruiting office shows Saguaro High School graduate, Wade McEachern left for basic training on June 19. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The desire to become a leader and serve his or her country are among top reasons young adults in Scottsdale and around the Valley of the Sun enter the United States Army.

While thousands of men and women enlist every year for a variety of reasons, including education remits or training for a profession, a main theme within the city of Scottsdale is honor, Army officials say.

Of the five high schools within the Scottsdale Unified School District, four had students enlisting this year, with a total of 67 enlistments for the both the city of Scottsdale and Town of Paradise Valley, records show.

Scottsdale Recruiting Center Leader, Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Gonzalez, says some students may enlist this year, but don’t begin basic training until the following year.

Of local SUSD schools, Coronado High School has had four enlistments this fiscal year; Saguaro has had two; and Arcadia has had three, Sgt. Gonzalez says.

The U.S. government’s fiscal year runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30, and this fiscal year marks a big push deployed by the Army to increase its enlistments.

On Dec. 23, 2016, former President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act — sponsored by Arizona Sen. John McCain — strengthening the total U.S. Army by increasing to 1.018 million soldiers by the end of the fiscal year.

To hit that total, the Army needs to recruit 68,500 people for active-duty and 14,600 for the Army Reserve by fiscal year’s end.

“For 2017, this is the largest in-year increase in Army history,” Sgt. Gonzalez explained in a June 27 interview at the recruitment office. “So that means, ‘hey we have to fill up all these positions as soon as possible. There’s a demand for enlistment and it’s our job to find the most highly qualified applicant.”

The Army faces more difficulties in recruitment then ever, as a reported 70 percent of today’s youth do not qualify for military service. Obesity accounts for about 31 percent of disqualifications, while low aptitude accounts for about 9.5 percent, U.S. Army Recruiting Command spokesperson, Brian Sutton says.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Gonzalez holds up a photo from 2003, taken on the boarder of Iraq and Kuwait. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Service-to-country

On a Tuesday afternoon in late June, the Scottsdale Army recruiting office, 6747 E. Thomas Road, suite 102C, was nearly empty as most of their recruiters were out conducting business, Sgt. Gonzalez said.

The recruiting office was made up of several cubicle desks, a sitting area with a couch and a TV, work-out equipment and various U.S. Army apparel and posters hung around the room.

When a young adult is considering enlisting, the recruiters aim to learn about that person’s career aspirations, Army aspirations, life goals and many more.

“I came in when I was 17, I was a junior in high school,” Sgt. Gonzalez recalled, pointing to a photo of a group of soldiers sitting on his desk.

“Born and raised in southern California, I knew the Army was my calling, so to speak. I sat with a recruiter, went over my options and found myself swearing-in and enlisting an entire year before I graduated high school.”

Sgt. Gonzalez has been the Scottsdale recruitment center leader for 11 months; prior, he was working as a recruiter in Tucson.

The role that school plays in a teen’s life is apparent to the Sergent, as he detailed some of goals of being more involved in the local schools.

“Throughout the school year that’s our focus — being engaged with the high school, the faculty and the community in general,” he explained of the recruiter’s daily job.

“This year one of my main focuses for this office, for the Sergents, to be more engaged in the schools. One challenge we have as recruiters for the Army is support from our schools and the community — it’s not that we face resistance, just a lot of people don’t understand what we do.”

While many high schools have a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps — also known as JROTC — there are zero Scottsdale Schools with this club.

“That’s something I’m focused on building because I think it’s important not just for the Army, but for the military and for students,” Sgt. Gonzalez said of the club.

The recruiters are assigned to individual schools, and their relationship with that school varies. While a recruiter might have a good relationship with a school’s athletics department and is around campus frequently, another school might only allow recruiters to visit occasionally.

Sgt. Gonzalez says he’s happy to say he has been working with Scottsdale’s superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell to discuss what their focus is when it comes to the high schools.

Jobs that appeal to Scottsdale residents include airborne training, Ranger training, and an infantry man or woman, Sgt. Gonzalez says.

“Believe it or not, a lot of people out of Scottsdale want to be infantry men — not just men, but women as well — so they’re looking for a challenge,” he said.

“We have in Scottsdale — one thing I love about this particular area — is that you’re going to find service-to-county, as far as being an influence, as far as why people want to join here in Scottsdale more than anywhere else. So here you’re talking to people and students who want to serve because that’s what they feel they need to do.”

Staff Sgt. Sean Hilton talks with a young man in the Scottsdale Army Recruiting office Tuesday, June 27. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Appealing to today’s youth

The U.S. Army offers incentives for enlisting and for working particular jobs, especially now that they’re trying to grow their enlistment, Army officials say.

To maintain high-quality recruits while facing societal challenges, the service is offering bonuses up to $40,000 per person for 45 different occupations, and two-year enlistment opportunities for more than 90 different occupations.

“There’s $200 million of enlistment bonuses — that’s how this effects Scottsdale,” Mr. Sutton said in a June 27 phone interview, noting the Army didn’t offer this large of incentives last year.

The two-year enlistment is to appeal to young Americans wanting to take some time off between high school and college, Mr. Sutton says, and the Army believes many of today’s youth are unaware of the career and educational opportunities available within the service.

“The Army has 150 different career options that give youth the experience they need in almost every career field found in the private sector — and they can get a free education to support it, so they are ready to be competitive and free of student loan debt when they apply for private-sector jobs,” he said.

Since 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped more than 340,000 student veterans complete a post-secondary certificate or degree, and 23 percent of whom are female.

“There’s a lot of money available for kids just coming out of high school if they’d like to join the Army,” Mr. Sutton said. “Kids coming out of high school can go to work in robotics — everyone thinks the Army is blood and guts, but vast majority has nothing to do with any of that.”

Broken-down by ZIP code, the Scottsdale and Town of Paradise Valley area have had a total of 67 enlistments in 2017, according to records provided by Phoenix Army Recruiting Battalion. ZIP code 85257 has 13 enlistments, while 85260 has 15. The other 15 ZIP codes had seven or less enlistments each.

Phoenix Army Recruiting Battalion Public Affairs Specialist, Michael Scheck, says his office is expecting to see an increase in interest with the incentives.

“It’s a little lower than average,” he says in a June 27 email. “However, with the current incentives offered by the Army — $40,000 cash enlistment bonuses, two-year enlistments and $60,000 student loan repayment — we should see an increase in interest.

“The problem is the shrinking pool of enlistment eligible candidates. Obesity, low test scores and law violations reduce our pool (17-34 year old) to three of ten candidates that are enlistment eligible.”

Flexibility

Arizona State University graduate and Army Reserve Sgt. Kevin Daniels, one was one the thousands of students who enlisted in the military in 2008.

“I enlisted into the U.S. Army Reserve in April 2008 just before my high school graduation,” Sgt. Daniels said in a June 28 emailed response to questions. “My primary reason for enlisting in the Army was to receive education benefits to pay for university.”

Sgt. Daniels was mobilized to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from 2010-11, before graduating from ASU in 2014. Following graduation, he was mobilized to Ft. Bliss, Texas.

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Kevin Daniels

“With my enlistment into the Army Reserve I was able to attend university while still fulfilling my obligation to the reserves,” Sgt. Daniels explains. “Prior to my enlistment I knew I had wanted to attend Arizona State University and I was already accepted. I did not have a way to pay for university and saw the opportunity with the educational benefits the Army had to offer.”

Growing up in Kansas, Sgt. Daniels says he had a great recruiter who helped him transition smoothly to Arizona.

“He was able to get me the benefits I needed for school as well as a unit close to school so I could do both. The Army Reserves afforded me the flexibility to do both and maintain a balance in my life, aside from the mobilization,” he says. “Yet even with the few mobilizations I have had I used those as learning experiences and grew from them.”

A piece of advice Sgt. Daniels offers to people considering the military, is to be educated in what the job entails.

“Make sure you feel you are joining for the right reasons,” he says. “Don’t join just because you can’t think of anything else to do, you will not enjoy your time in. Know what it is that you are joining, I have met too many individuals that have joined and didn’t know what they were getting into.”

The Army Reserve Sergeant recommends researching the different branches of the military, and not letting a recruiter be the only source of information you learn from.

“If you know what you want to get out of the military then I say go for it, the educational benefits are great and the experience you can get from the military helps out tremendously later on in your career,” he says.

“I have had a pretty great experience so far in my Army career. I do not regret my choice to join after high school. As with all aspects of your life, it has its ups and downs and most of all, frustration. My military experience is very different from what you would compare to other military experiences in that I have not been to a combat deployment or dealt with medical disability, so I am fortunate in that regard.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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