With high school graduation right around the corner, Army recruiters are fanning out across the Augusta area in an effort to persuade more than 300 young men and women to commit to military service by the end of September.
The next two weeks could mean all the difference in determining whether local recruiters meet their mark, said Staff Sgt. Franklin Stonom, of the Army’s recruiting office on Wrightsboro Road.
Stonom said local recruiters are nearing the end of peak season and should know by May 27 whether they will be able to snag the last of the undecided graduates who might not be going to college.
“We’re making sure our presence is felt,” said Stonom, one of 13 Augusta recruiters spending extra time in schools, at community events and with parents to bring in 315 new soldiers. So far, 209 have committed.
The new recruiting mark comes a year after the Army brought in 428 recruits from Augusta, 115 more than its goal. The 2013 target raises questions of whether a rosy recruiting environment could be coming to an end as the economy shows signs of improvement and the Army prepares to draw down its troops by 80,000 soldiers.
“There is really no telling where we are headed,” said Leslie Ann Sully, a spokeswoman for the region’s recruiting effort. “Our numbers in the Army overall are less than what they were in years past. We are constantly reassessing our missions.”
To qualify for service, candidates must have must have a high school diploma, pass a standardized test and physical examination, and have a somewhat clean criminal background, because the Army is “not giving out as many waivers,” Sully said.
According to a memo provided to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in April, 57 percent of parents, teachers and counselors generally don’t recommend military service, and one in five young adults is either overweight or lacks a high school diploma.
Federal data show Army recruiting in Augusta, Evans and the South Carolina counties of Aiken, Orangeburg and Greenwood is down 13 percent since 2009, when almost 500 people joined the service.
For the Class of 2013, though, Sully said freshly minted high school graduates are motivated to join the military, become financially stable and gain independence.
“A lot of teenagers just want something to do and be away from home while they determine their futures,” she said. “This is a great way for them to get hands-on job training while traveling the world.”
Sully said recruiting campaigns also heat up in August and November.
“We have some who wait,” she said of recruits. “They do not know what they want to do and may decide to take the summer to think about it.”
Stonom said recruiters try to be proactive, homing in on a prospect’s life plans early and helping that person weigh the financial cost of college versus the income and benefits attainable in the military.
Recruiters’ main goal, he said, is to “try to get soldiers in before they have that diploma in hand.”