This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri May 2nd 2018.
This column is an attempt to educate anyone who will read it about different aspects of life in the Army. Much has been written about the disconnect between the military and the general population. Most people around Belle, Missouri, who have not served, know hardly anything about normal everyday life in the military. Some teenagers in high school have an image of the military, that after seeing “Lone Survivor”, that anyone who goes into that is going to die in combat. Some only think of a picture of a drill sergeant with his hat brim in the face of a trainee, as the military. Neither could be further from the truth.
So, who enlists in the military? Some stories are that only the uneducated lower classes enlist. Not true. The Army is currently in a “build up”, and for the first time ever it is not lowering standards. It is increasing enlistment bonuses to entice people to enlist for particular jobs. A high school diploma is required. If a person only has a GED high school completion, they must have 15 semester hours of college to enlist. They must also score high enough on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The ASVAB is the military version of an ACT or an SAT. It consists of 10 tests, general science, arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, mathematics knowledge, electronics information, automotive and shop information, mechanical comprehension, assembling objects, and verbal expression. The entire test is three hours long, with individual areas lasting between 10 and 40 minutes. There are school districts in some states where a large percentage of students do not score high enough to be accepted into the military.
Next myth. The majority are from poor families. Not true. Fifty percent of enlisted recruits come from families in the top 40 percent of income, 25 percent of those from families in the top 20 percent of income. Only 10 percent come from the bottom 20 percent.
The majority of recruits come from the south and the southwest. True. That’s because those areas are more rural and patriotic and have more poor areas. No, not true. That’s where the military is located. California has the largest military population (184,000) of any state, mostly Navy and Air Force, but it is does not produce the most recruits. California has the largest unemployed veteran and the largest homeless veteran population of any state. California is ranked number 52, as the least desirable state for military retirement. Texas is the second state in military population (164,000). It also has a large retired military population and a large number of enlistees come from Texas. By far, the largest numbers of recruits come from a block of states in the South/Southeast, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Almost half of our entire military force, almost 500,000 active duty, is concentrated in those five states. So, who enlists in the military? People who know the military.
“Army brat” or “military brat” is not a description of an undisciplined child. It is a term of affection, compassion, endearment, and respect proudly worn by children of active duty military families. When one military brat introduces themselves to another each understands that they may or may not have a “home town”. Home was where the family was located. They were probably a world traveler, having lived in several states and different countries. Our kids toured German castles, including Neuschwanstein, the Disney castle, plus the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, and the German, Austrian, and Italian Alps. They went to school in North Carolina, Germany, Italy, and South Carolina, as well as Belle, Missouri. Army brats have usually attended several schools, giving up friends as they were leaving, and making new ones at their new home. They grew up watching their father put on a uniform every day and go to work. They saw how proud Dad was when they attended his promotion or award ceremonies. They attended his company picnics and battalion family days. They got to know the soldiers in Dad’s platoon or company, as well as the other kids and mothers. They listened to Dad in the evenings talk about his day, about what was going right and what needed work. They saw Dad get up early and go in to work after he had come in after midnight from a long hard field exercise. He didn’t have to go in early, but he had to see that some things got done. If they were in the car with Mom on post at 5:00 PM, the car stopped and all got out and stood attention as Taps played and the flag was being lowered. Army brats grow up learning the Army from the inside out. They grow up feeling the intense pride their parent or parents have in what they are doing, and when they graduate from high school, some go to a military academy, some to college and take ROTC, and many enlist in the service in which their parent had served.
The largest Army post is Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at Fayetteville, one tenth of all the Army is at Fort Bragg. Camp Lejeune Marine Base, at Jacksonville, North Carolina, with its satellite bases is almost as large. The US Army Recruiting Battalion at Raleigh, North Carolina is the number one recruiting battalion in the country. It supervises recruiting companies in Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem. The Commander of the Raleigh Recruiting Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Mitchell, said that battalion routinely brings in three times the number of recruits into the Army each year as many of its peers. He said that the Fayetteville Company, next to Fort Bragg, often enlists more recruits into the Army than entire battalions in other parts of the country. They enlist because they grew up in or around the Army.
The 82nd Airborne Division selects a non-commissioned Officer (NCO) of the year and a trooper of the year, each year just prior to All American Week, during which the winner is announced. It is a big deal! Over the years those selected have gone on to be very successful in and out of the Army. The competition starts at company and battalion level, with recommendations, competitions and screening boards. Finally, for the handful that are left at division level, usually three to six, there are three days of tough competition. The first thing on the first day is the Army Physical Fitness Test, then zero and qualify with a rifle, display their familiarization with different weapons systems, and a written test. On day two is night-to-day land navigation course and additional hands-on warrior task assessments in infantry tactics, nuclear, biological and chemical protection and decontamination procedures and medical evacuation. The final day is the Division Board, composed of the Brigade Command Sergeants Major and chaired by the Division Command Sergeant Major.
In 2015, Specialist Terri Bluebird beat out all competitors to become the first female 82nd Airborne Division Trooper of the Year. She was a combat medic. She was also an Army brat. Both her parents were in the Army, in the 82nd Airborne Division. Both were jumpmasters. Her mother, who was a cook, was the first Native American female to retire from the Army. Terri was born in Womack Army Hospital, on post, and grew up on Fort Bragg. She said; “I just wanted to be part of what they thought was the best time of their life”. She was promoted to Sergeant shortly after that, and the next year was selected for the Army’s Active Duty Green to Gold program. She will attend college for two years, paid for by the Army, while continuing her full active duty pay and allowances, then upon completing her bachelors’ degree, she will be commissioned a Second Lieutenant and return to active duty.
After serving in Vietnam, Sergeant Major Albert Brunson with his wife Delphine and family retired from the Army, at Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he had spent a large part of his career. The family came together for an interview in 2008. There were Albert and Delphine and their sons Lieutenant Colonel Xavier Brunson, with his wife, Lieutenant Colonel Kristen Brunson, Major LaHavie Brunson and his wife Karyn, Major Tavi Brunson and his wife Captain Miryam Brunson. Lieutenant Colonel Xavier Brunson said the values that his father brought home were the reason for his decision to join the Army. He said that the earliest roots of those values was the love of our family and the love of this great nation. He said; “….we treat this like a profession. This is our family business.”
Military pay is sufficient. You won’t get rich in the military, but if you live within your means it can be a comfortable life. After our first was born, my wife became a stay at home mom and didn’t work for the next 14 years, until I retired from the Army. Along the way we bought two houses, one of them new, and several new cars. Health care is not a concern, medical and dental care are provided for the service member and his or her family. Housing is provided. The family can live in family housing on post or receive a housing allowance and live off post. Every service member gets 30 days leave (paid vacation) each year. Most soldiers get off work at 5:00 PM and go back to work at around 6:30 AM, with weekends off, plus soldiers in combat units that train hard, like the 82nd Airborne Division, get many three and four day weekends. When Monday is a holiday, commanders will try to make Friday a training holiday, which means most everyone is off from Thursday afternoon to Tuesday morning. Education is pushed hard, and the Army pays for 16 semester hours tuition annually for evening or online classes. Moves are paid for by the military, plus the soldier is paid a “dislocation allowance”.
Aside from the particular job a soldier may have, the life might be called a protected life.
So, who is enlisting in the Army? People who already know the Army. That is also why they are enlisting in such large numbers.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri May 2nd 2018.