Some people who are finding job options drying up are turning to the U.S. armed forces for a career.
Brandon Stewart has been thinking about joining the military.
The 24-year-old Oak Grove man moved from the Midwest to Arizona to attend the University of Arizona three years ago, but he has since returned home to outside Blue Springs.
Never during his time away did he think about Uncle Sam.
While he’s got a steady job working in North Kansas City, he doesn’t expect to be there much longer – if not because of layoffs, then because of the approximately $26,000 in school loans weighing on his shoulders.
“I’ve looked into all the (military) branches,” Stewart said recently. “I haven’t figured out which is for me yet, but I have a feeling the economy is going to decide for me.”
A recent news report frightened Stewart. It indicated that 21,000 jobs throughout the Kansas City area are expected to be lost in 2009, and spokesmen for the Army, Navy, Marines, and National Guard said they are keeping an eye on that development, one that could lead a few more good men and women to join.
Perhaps nowhere else in the United States can a military recruiter depend on such an uncontroversial and dedicated pool of recruits, and Gary Bloomfield, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Kansas and Missouri division, is counting on that to continue.
Bloomfield said you could look at recent recruiting trends in Eastern Jackson County, which represent the Midwest as a whole rather well.
“In the Midwest, people easily qualify for military service because there’s a stronger sense of traditional values, of serving,” he said, confirming recent reports that recruiting numbers are up.
Besides the traditional values honoring service, Bloomfield said Midwest applicants are less likely to be disqualified because of criminal convictions, gang affiliations, body piercings and/or tattoos than in other areas of the country.
“That’s good. We need all we can.”
According to other published reports, all active-duty and reserve forces met or exceeded their recruitment goals last year for the first time since 2004. The U.S. Army exceeded recruiting targets for the last three months of 2008, bringing in 21,443 new soldiers on active duty and in the reserves.
That’s a significant change, the article said, from when the Army reported in 2005 that recruiting numbers fell by about 25 percent, falling short of its target of signing up 6,700 recruits by May.
The reasons for the rebound are many, said Bloomfield. The economy is a big factor, he said, as is the decline in violence in Iraq. The expansion of the G.I. Bill, which by August will allow service members who spend a minimum of three years on active duty to attend any public college at government expense, is another reason. Service members can also apply the payment toward tuition at a private university.
Bloomfield said recruitment figures are higher so far this year in areas like Blue Springs and Independence. In most cases, it’s the economy that’s bringing them in.
“Whenever the economy is down, we’re up,” he said. “Yet the Midwest has traditionally been a good place to get recruits. We are making our mission.”
Tracy Laughery, spokesperson for the U.S. National Guard, said Blue Springs typically finished in the top three cities in the state from which to attract recruits.
He said recent recruitment figures show numbers are holding steady.
“Would I say the numbers are higher than six years ago – no, but they’re steady,” Laughery said. “Areas from where we pull from – Blue Springs, Independence, Grain Valley, Fort Osage – have always been great. We’ve always done well.”
The National Guard recently increased their age requirement to 42 years old. The organization also helps those who have not graduated high school or acquired a GED.
“The plus program provides free training and testing services that assist recruits to get the GED,” he said, citing a partnership between Missouri and Arkansas. “We’ve seen more interest in this program.”
A recruiter for the U.S. Marines office in Independence, who asked not to be identified, said the past three months have shown a small but steady increase in recruit interest, especially with recent layoffs.
“There’s been guys coming in who have been laid off from GM and Ford,” he said. “They’re typically in their early or mid-20s. In other instances, they’re guys who are just tired of dead-end jobs and want to make more of themselves.
“We’re expecting numbers to increase more in the near future.”
Thomas Smith, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Navy, said the branch is seeing more and more people reconsidering.
“Some people who wouldn’t have normally considered the Navy as a first choice are thinking more about the opportunity,” he said.
In Eastern Jackson County, Smith said recruitment numbers have increased.
“It’s increased because of the economy and concerns over the war,” Smith said.
But Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard traditionally see steady interest because both see less combat. The Navy has even had to shed thousands from its ranks, according to an Associated Press story in June 2005.,
Neither the Air Force or Coast Guard responded with information for this article.