YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Recruiters Report Mixed Response in War's 1st Week : Armed forces: In Los Angeles, there's a 50% decline, but parts of Orange County are seeing a significant increase.


Gabriela Zavala, 18, stepped on a scale in the Army's Hollywood recruiting office Tuesday, a tiny initial step in a process that could take her to the Persian Gulf and war.

"I know it is not a game out there," she said. "I know it is a war. I know I could die out there. But I would die doing something for my country."

Across the room, a 23-year-old new enlistee who had signed up a week before war broke out was saying that he has no desire to be sent to Saudi Arabia.

"If I die over there, it is fate," said the young man, who identified himself only as Mike. "But I would rather die someplace where it is worth dying for. This is not a U.S. war. It is somebody else's war."

From this outpost of enlistment and others across the country, the early returns on the impact of the new war on recruitment efforts are decidedly mixed. Spot checks nationally found that activity has varied from recruiting station to recruiting station, from city to city, and no comprehensive national figures are available as yet, officials said.

"I look across the board and in some places it's down and in some places it's up," said Lt. Cmdr. Alan Goldstein, a Navy spokesman in Chicago. "I can't quantify any effect of Desert Storm. This is not like World War II where there were lines, but they're not staying away in droves either."

In Orange County, many recruiters have seen a "significant increase" in people asking how to sign up for military service in the last week. Whether that translates to new recruits is something else again.

"They've been way up," said Marine Staff Sgt. Hector Martinez, commander at the Santa Ana recruiting office. "They're coming in basically because they just want to go out there to the gulf.

"We're telling them that the soonest we could get them out to boot camp is March, and that's three months. They then get a 10-day leave, then 30 days of combat training, then anywhere from four to 54 weeks of special training," Martinez said. "So by the time they get done, there won't be any action for them" in the Persian Gulf.

So far, the sudden interest hasn't translated into a surge in new Marine recruits.

"There may be a few more than this time last year, but it's not like double or anything like that," said gunnery Sgt. Douglas Allen, spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Station-Orange County.

Air Force recruiters have been reaching their goals in Orange County, but no flood of eager prospects has materialized since the war began, said Capt. Olivia Tapia of the 3562nd USAF Recruiting Squadron, based at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino.

She said Orange County reflects the mix of sentiments about the war. "Some people are coming forward because they say they think it's the patriotic thing to do, and others are worried about the war and don't come forward."

In Los Angeles, military recruiters report a 50% decline in new recruits this month. Recruiting stations in Houston report no real change since the war began, but Marine Corps recruiting in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is up about 15%. In Chicago, Air Force recruiting is about the same, but the Army is "getting quite a bit more traffic than normal."

Recruiters from Illinois to the Pacific Northwest found a near doubling of calls from former servicemen and women who want to re-enlist and "get to the action" in the gulf.

And in Chicago, recruiters said they are seeing an upsurge of applicants who are not qualified for enlistment.

"They don't have high school diplomas or (equivalency certificates)," said Army Staff Sgt. Robert D. Carswell. "And quite a few have prior service but aren't eligible to re-enlist. The Army hasn't lowered its standards."

In the recruiting stations themselves--typically storefront operations in the midst of commercial strips--the mood hardly seems normal. While there is talk of the benefits of enlistment, it is clear that the notion of signing up only to develop a marketable skill is no longer current.

"I don't think you can escape what's going on right now," said 1st Sgt. Frank Pumphrey, who supervises seven recruiting stations in southeast Los Angeles County.

"People want to get involved with the effort over there," said Staff Sgt. Dave Smith, a Marine recruiter in Houston, adding that his office is getting between 50 and 60 calls a week from former Leathernecks looking to rejoin the corps.

Some Marine recruiters said their service has been attracting plenty of fresh recruits after the war started. "The phone was ringing off the hook," said Sgt. Joe Steele, spokesman for Marine Corps recruiters in San Diego County. "It was crazy."

In Los Angeles, however, military recruiters are meeting only 50% of their quotas, a spokesman said, adding that much of the drop is directly attributable to the war.

Recruiters said that sometimes the problem is not the potential volunteers, but their parents--whose signatures are necessary before members of the most promising age group, 17-year-olds, can sign up.

Los Angeles Times Articles