Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bravo For San Antonio

The New York Times, of all places, reports that San Antonio is stepping up to the plate when it comes to military recruiting.

At a time when the divide is widening between the cities and regions that send their children to war and those that do not, San Antonio remains a ready source of what the military needs most: people.

This metropolis - the home of the Alamo and the site of an Army presence since 1845 - is a top recruiting market for every branch of the military. The Army, in particular, which has struggled to sign up new soldiers during the continuing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, has found the San Antonio area to be a reliable and steady source of recruits.

Now that might not surprise some people--it's Texas, after all. Lot of proud Americans in Texas. But look at part of what the article says about schools:

Many of these veterans are retirees. And because of a Texas program that makes it easier for them to gain jobs as teachers, San Antonio's schools are filled with men and women who served in uniform for 20 years or more.

They are often eager, active links between the battalion's 200-plus recruiters and students, who even in San Antonio's relatively thriving economy - low unemployment and a new Toyota plant on the way - are willing to enlist. Many students see the military as not just a good career but as a prestigious path, one more valued by some than college. "We're strong like that," said Jonathan Garcia, 16, standing outside the Ingram Park Mall one summer day. "If I'm going to die, I might as well die for my country."

In the hallways and courtyards of places like Judson High School, on the city's northeastern edge, a breezy comfort with the military is clearly evident. Since October last year, at least 25 former Judson students have enlisted in the Army, according to recruiting officials, making it one of the military's most productive schools.

It is easy to see why.

When Staff Sgt. Ian E. Davis, a square-chinned infantryman back from Iraq, and Sgt. Adam D. Torres, his soft-spoken recruiting partner, strolled in on the first day of school in August, unannounced and carrying doughnuts, the receptionist, Donna McMillion, greeted them with hugs.

"I appreciate everything you guys do for us - everything," said Ms. McMillion, wearing a pin that said "Too blessed to be stressed."

On most Tuesdays, Sergeants Davis and Torres can be found in one of the school's cafeterias, chatting with students or handing out free Army calendars. In contrast to school districts in California, New York and Washington State that have started limiting recruiters to only a few visits a year, Judson's administrators allow Sergeants Davis and Torres to come and go as they please.

The access is valuable because the student body is of Texan proportions: more than 3,500 on two campuses.

And size is not Judson's only advantage. At the school's Gray Campus, a short drive from the Red Campus, Barbara Meade, a guidance counselor, promised to point students toward the Army. "I have a lot of kids who need to be talking to you," she said to Sergeant Davis. "It's their best option."

The student population is heavily Hispanic, coming from mostly lower- and middle-class families. About 470 students are enrolled in the Air Force Junior R.O.T.C. program. Their day begins with the Pledge of Allegiance to the American and Texan flags.

Among Judson's faculty, connections to the military are as common as master's degrees in education. Its principal, Brad Williams, said 70 percent of the 280-member faculty served in the military, have family members who served, or also work in jobs connected to local bases. The concentrated military presence puts people like Richard McCarson, an assistant principal with a broad chest and a slight Texas drawl, in close contact with teenagers looking for a career. He tells a simple tale in a gruff voice: He was drafted at 19, and, he says, it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

"I was the first person in my family to go to college, and my entire education was paid for by the military," he said, standing in Mr. Williams's office.

Color me envious. And proud that there are still good people in this country who don't look down their noses at those of us who served, who serve, or who want to serve.

But what about those who protest?

This summer, Sergeant Davis said, two mothers paid a call on his recruiting office to denounce the war and the recruiters' efforts. Still, for many people here, the war's needs outweigh political opposition, fear and ambivalence. Many said they believed that those who oppose recruitment are ignorant about the value that military service holds for the individual and the country.

At the Lutheran church, pride trumped all other emotions. Holding snapshots of young men and women in uniform, the parents there described their sons' decision to serve as inherently noble and brave.

"I have cards made up that I give to recruiters for them to pass out to parents," said Beverly Rosen, 42, the mother of Lance Cpl. Ryan Visket, who returned from Iraq in February. "That way, they can talk to someone who has walked in their shoes."

If I were wearing a hat, I'd take it off for San Antonio.


Anonymous said...

Damend, 470 in JROTC...when I was in HS, if we could get 100 in the program it would be a miracle! :)

Next time I'm in SA I'll send you some great BBQ sauce! :)


Darren said...

Will it be as good as Tony Chachere's spices?