Armed forces find many want to enlist
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times,
Tony Guerrero drove to the U.S. Marines recruiting station in Seminole Wednesday morning, reporting for duty.
The 23-year-old had been interested in becoming a Marine for years but never applied. Tuesday's terrorist attacks, which Guerrero never thought could happen on American soil, changed that.
"It kind of opened up my eyes," the muscular Dunedin resident said before a Marine recruiter. "I've gotta do something. This country has given me 23 great years."
Guerrero was one of many area residents who either called or dropped by recruiting stations, offering help or requesting to enlist in the armed forces. Unfortunately, recruiters said, most did not meet the desired qualifications.
"You see a larger influx of people wanting to serve their country, and it's nice," said U.S. Army Capt. Troy Barnes, who oversees recruiting efforts in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and much of north Pinellas counties. "But they're not what would we consider good candidates."
All branches of the military require recruits to be at least 17, have a high school diploma or equivalency diploma, pass a basic aptitude test and undergo a physical. Processing time -- from walk-in to the start of military training -- can take as little as 10 days.
Across the country, military recruiters reported a jump in visitors and phone calls in the hours after the New York and Washington, D.C., attacks. Recruiters heard from angry teenagers, as well as somber veterans just wanting to know how they could help.
The outpouring was reminiscent of the Gulf War, some officers said, when there also was a rise in enlistments. Other officers said they had never seen interest at this level.
Many who called were Vietnam War veterans. Some were elderly men who served in World War II.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Charles Young, who supervises the St. Petersburg recruiting office, said he received about 50 telephone calls Tuesday. The volume was unprecedented, he said.
"We were flooded with calls, bless their hearts," he said. "Unfortunately, they're below the cusp."
It was not clear Wednesday whether Guerrero, the aspiring Marine from Dunedin, would make the cut. Guerrero, who sells video games and radio equipment through his Web site, got his GED in 1996, but U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. David J. McDaniel said he had no openings for people with GEDs.
McDaniel offered to put him on a waiting list. There may be an opening in October, McDaniel said.
"Sound good?" McDaniel asked.
"It sounds good," Guerrero replied.
- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks
Mary Jo Melone