Recruiting for military service

US armed forces offer alternative career path

Michigan Army National Guard SFC Christopher Bates, a Hancock native who represents the Michigan Army National Guard, poses with Spc. Faith Oard, a Michigan Tech senior.

HOUGHTON — Michigan Department of Technology and Management and Budget July 2023 statistics showed Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties combined unemployment rate was at 6.5%. Houghton county was the lowest at 5.5%.

Overall, the nation’s unemployment rate was at 3.8%. In recent decades, this is at a historic low point.

MDTMB data also revealed that within the region there are currently over 600 job openings. The most prevalent Upper Peninsula career openings are in health care and retail.

Competing with these local openings are careers with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Space Force and National Guard.

Recruitment: a bit

of history, trends

Based upon America’s then population, Bureau of Labor Statistics research showed during Vietnam 9.7% of the population served active duty. There was an active military draft during this period. Immediately after 9/11, there was a significant uptick of men and women joining the military.

Current Pew Research notes slightly under one percent of the nation’s population now serves in active-duty military.

According to Department of Defense (DOD) spokesperson, Navy Commander, Nicole Schwegman, “The military services continue to face unprecedented recruiting challenges which impact their ability to recruit and reach mission goals. These challenges include but are not limited to market conditions such as low employment, disinterested youth, a shrinking veteran population, residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, limited access to high schools, and other factors.”

Schwegman continued, “DOD is developing a comprehensive, broad messaging campaign to dispel misconceptions and better educate both today’s youth and their influencers on the countless opportunities and benefits available through the military. The military services are seeing record high levels of retention. We are focused on communicating the value of service, because we believe that once people join our ranks and see the great training and opportunities we provide, they will want to stay on the team.”

DOD 2022 research, lists the following top six reasons of Americans joining the military:

• Pay and money

• Pay for future education

• Travel

• Gain work experience/skills

• Health and medical benefits

• To help others

Conversely, the top six reasons for not joining the military:

• Possibility of physical injury/death

• Possibility of PTSD and related issues

• Leaving family and friends

• Other career interests

• Dislike of military lifestyle,

• Required to live in places I don’t want to live in

Data compiled by DOD’s Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness revealed for the eight-month period ending May 2023, active-duty recruitment was achieved only by the Marine Corps and Space Force. All the other branches achieved 63% to 83% of their goal. The report did add, “All services exhibited strong retention.”

A 2022 DOD study revealed grandparents and older adults were significant influencers on youth in considering the military. However, with parents, there was at least a 25% lower reinforcement rate in joining the military.

Compared to two decades ago, Pew Research showed the active-duty military has more women, people of color, ethnicity serving, and tend to be better educated. An interesting recent uptick, with both enlisted and commissioned (officers), was their years of continued service increased.

Observations from local recruiters

With numerous and varied local career opportunities, why would a qualified area resident join the military?

Locally, an Army recruitment office is found in Houghton. Navy, Air Force and Space Force offices are located in Marquette, Marine Corps in Escanaba and Iron Mountain, and the Coast Guard in Chicago.

Located on Michigan Technological University’s campus is SFC Christopher Bates representing the Michigan Army National Guard.

Bates is a Hancock native. Most recently he has been advanced to be the lead recruiter for all the Upper Peninsula’s National Guard recruiting offices. Annually, each office has a mission of recruiting 12 to 20 individuals.

Bates, who has served in war zones, trained as a recruiter at Arkansas’ Fort Robinson. He stated, “One of the unique aspects of recruiting for National Guard service is after basic and advanced training, you can opt to live, work, and serve locally.”

With the Guard he has learned that recruits have a strong desire to serve, continue to be part of the community, and receive educational support benefits.

Recruits can begin Guard service at age 17 during high school and continue into technical and college education. With certain recruitment test entry scores and military career positions, Guard members can receive up to a $20,000 bonus over a period of time. In addition, another program, over time, offers up to $50,000 in educational assistance.

Bates continued in stating he encourages potential recruits to look beyond what can the Guard do for you – rather, “What can you do for the Guard.”

He added. “One of the recruiting aspects I implement is life counseling in such areas as time management and career goals. If the Guard is not the right military career match for them, I will guide them to other branches.”

In addition, Bates has interacted with elementary students addressing bullying and good nutrition.

After basic training at one of four centers, new recruits can enter advanced training which can vary from four weeks to a full year. Upon completion, Guard members train one weekend per month and two weeks during the summer.

Recruitment obligation years tend to vary between three and six years.

Guard members can be called to active duty. Bates revealed some of his unit’s domestic and overseas assignments involved runway and school construction, installing drinkable water systems, and training local military members.

Bates concluded, “With the Guard members serving and residing locally, I have an advantage in staying in contact with them. Many have a lengthy heritage of family members serving in the military.”

Located near the intersection of Pearl Street and Ruby Avenue is Houghton’s Army Recruiting station. SGT Luis Canedo arrived this past December to lead the region’s recruiting efforts. Plans are he will be joined by a second recruiter.

Canedo, a California native, has been in the Army for nine years. He has already entrenched himself into the region by being a search and rescue volunteer.

In recruiting, he commented, “It is very important to fully understand who a potential soldier is and understanding their personal goals.”

Canedo stated the Army offers 140 career opportunities to potential recruits, as well as educational advancements with financial support.

He added he has found recruiting in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is less complicated than recruiting in large and complex metropolitan areas.

Army recruiters undergo seven weeks of intensive training at Kentucky’s Fort Knox.

Overlooking the Houghton station and five other UP Army recruitment centers and several northern Wisconsin stations, is 1SGT Jordan Whitlow. The Texas native has 16 years of Army service. Having previously served in lower Wisconsin, he and his family were familiar with the UP and were attracted to his career move.

Whitlow stated within the region there are 135 high schools and colleges to recruit candidates. He added, “What I tend see in recruitment is the attraction of a life’s adventure, numerous benefits like healthcare and vacation leave, housing support, educational opportunities, and to serve in a vital role.”

He added with all his recruiters he expects them to be fully engaged within the communities they serve through volunteering and at special events. Whitlow revealed a recruiter must possess strong personal character, communication skills, and exhibit leadership.

Each recruiter has a monthly mission of obtaining one recruit. Whitlow commented in recruiting, candidate quality comes to the top of the qualification list.

Candidates need to pass a substance abuse and background review, an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery entry examination, and physical qualification.

With the entry examination, should a potential recruit have a completion score below 31 and be close to other qualifications, they can enter the Army’s Future Solider Preparatory Course. This unique program helps them raise their entry test score, meet body mass requirements, and related aspects. Upon successful completion, they would then enter basic training (AKA boot camp). It was recently announced that the 90-day Future Soldiers program will become a permanent Army recruitment approach.

Two of the higher-level attractive aspects of joining the Army are with the military career designation and years served, a soldier can receive up to a $50,000 sign on bonus. In addition, there is extensive educational advancement funding support.

Local woman makes decision to join

Growing up near Midland, Michigan, Faith Oard now is a Michigan Technological University student in her senior year, majoring in mechanical engineering.

She stated, “In my youth I found I was attracted in taking things apart to understand how they worked and making things with a mechanical basis. These generated my MTU degree focus.”

She stated her parents are proud of her military service, especially her father who is a U.S. Navy veteran.

When Oard first entered MTU, a number of friends introduced her to campus ROTC programs and events. The military interested her, but she found herself attracted to the Michigan National Guard. Oard joined the Guard and is classified as a specialist.

Oard stated her attraction to the Guard was focused upon extensive university financial education support and opportunity to serve and be part of an important cause.

Oard commented, her unit stationed in Calumet, has between 150 to 180 serving members.

During the January 2021 presidential inauguration, she served active duty on the Capitol grounds. Subsequently, for a three-month period, she continued to serve active duty primarily on the Capitol grounds for a 4 p.m. to midnight patrol shift.

In addition, she experienced informative and valuable experiences working with the Army Corps of Engineering on complex Mississippi river navigation and engineering aspects.

Upon MTU graduation, this coming year, Oard will pursue a civilian career and continue to serve through the National Guard.

Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO. He frequently writes historic feature stories and op-eds for various Michigan newspapers. As a Vietnam-era veteran, he served in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Naval Reserve. He served on the public affairs staff of the secretary of the navy. He grew up near the tip of the mitt and resides in suburban Detroit.


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