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November 05, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, November 05, 2004

Recruits line up to serve Recruits line up to serve (November 05, 2004)

Armed services sign up 26 at Moffett

By Jon Wiener

It's Mission Day at Moffett Field, the deadline for recruiters from every branch of military service except the army to meet their monthly quotas.

Fifty-four teenagers and young 20-somethings from all over Northern California and the Central Valley are hoping to qualify for the military's "delayed entry program" by the end of the day.

They arrive on Oct. 29 at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at 5:15 a.m., just outside Moffett's main gate. In case they've forgotten why they are here, a sign over the entrance reminds them. It reads, "San Jose Military Entrance Processing Station: Freedom's Front Door."

Major Todd Parker, commander of the MEPS, is dressed in full camouflage fatigues, an indication that it is casual Friday. As he passes through the waiting rooms, he firmly reminds them to sit up.

Clad in sweatshirts and jeans, the recruits wear white nametags listing their name, identification numbers and the branch of the service they are hoping to enter. As they wait, a television blares music videos in the background.

These are the young men and women -- some of them, at least -- who will one day become the country's tank drivers and counter-intelligence operatives. But first they must undergo a series of tests designed to measure their fitness to serve. These include a full physical, a three-hour multidisciplinary aptitude test, screening for hearing and vision problems, urinalysis for drug use and a blood test for HIV.

By the end of the day, only 25 of the 54 who arrived will have qualified, picking their jobs and taking their ceremonial oath of allegiance. As part of the delayed entry program, they will return once more in several months to a year, after graduating from high school or finishing their other civilian responsibilities. They'll receive their orders, participate in another oath ceremony and be sent to basic training.

Most of the others will not get a chance to come back. According to Parker, 12 were disqualified for medical reasons, five failed to achieve the minimum score on their aptitude test, and two had paperwork problems.

"You see some sad faces sometimes," said Parker. "Our hope is that everybody qualifies, but it's just not going to happen."

The remaining 10 decided not to join for personal reasons. They either did not like the jobs offered to them on the basis of their test scores, or their parents intervened and convinced them to turn back, a trend Parker said has become more common in the past few years.

Master Sergeant Steven Graves, Army Senior Guidance Counselor and the head army recruiter stationed at the MEPS, said that 80 percent of the eligible general public would not qualify for service.

"We're always looking for people, but we're looking for people that we need," he said.

Those who have answered the call said they were attracted to the military by the promise of travel and education. The presidential election and war in Iraq, despite being at the center of public debate, are an afterthought to those preparing to risk their lives for their country and commander-in-chief.

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