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Seeking a few good men (and women, too)
More Northeast Georgians turn to military service for guaranteed work, income
Alexis Johns works on her marching skills at a recent Army drill. - photo by Tom Reed
In an unsteady economy, it's hard to count on anything except more layoffs.

With the national unemployment rate being the highest it's been in more than 20 years, many people are looking for a way to have a guaranteed income. For some, the answer that they were searching for turns out to be the U.S. armed forces.

"I was laid off of my job as an electrician. I looked for work for a month, but I couldn't find anything," said Pvt. Bobby Owens, a 21-year-old new recruit.

With a wife and a 2-year-old daughter to care for, he needed something with job security and Owens said he found that as an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army.

As more and more people find themselves in a similar situation, many of them are turning to local military recruiting offices for some stability.

"We're seeing more and more people coming in who are looking for a steady pay check and guaranteed benefits," said Sgt. 1st Class Corey Dancy, who is the station commander for the Army recruiting office in Gainesville.

"We've always had a good pool of recruits from this area, but we're seeing even more people come in now."

The number of recruits in the Northeast Georgia area has grown so much that the U.S. Army has recently opened a recruiting office in Commerce, Dancy said.

Not only is the Army office seeing changes in the number of potential recruits who visit their office on Dawsonville Highway, office staff also report seeing changes in the demographics of new recruits.

"On average, our recruits are between 20 and 26 years old, but now we're getting more people who are in their 30s," Dancy said. "We're also seeing more people who have families."

One such recruit is Pvt. Dustin Penner. Instead of being discouraged because he couldn't find a job, Penner decided to try something different.

"I drove by the (recruiting office) and decided to come in. I talked to a recruiter and signed up," said Penner, a 20-year-old Army recruit.

"I had a rough childhood, but I want a better life for my (4-month-old) son. I'm not worried about going to boot camp, but I am worried about what will happen afterwards if I get shipped off to Iraq. But I'm doing this for my son, so no matter what, my sacrifice is worth it."

While signing up for active duty requires a full-time commitment from recruits, there are part-time options available that allow them to still have financial security while still pursuing other jobs or furthering their education.

Although Pvt. Christina Sadler was wary of joining the military, after taking the advice of her mother and speaking to a recruiting officer, she found that the U.S. Army Reserves was a perfect fit.

"I was in college before, but I had to drop out because I didn't have the money to continue paying for it," said 20-year-old Sadler.

"I talked to the recruiter and told them I want to really know the truth about what I would be facing in boot camp. They told me they would yell at me and get in my face, but in the end it's worth it. I leave for boot camp (Tuesday) and after that is over, I start college in January."

The U.S. Army recruiting office isn't the only one seeing more recruits, so is the U.S. Navy.

"We've had a big increase in the number of new recruits that are coming in," said Petty Officer First Class Charles Cousins, recruiter in charge of the U.S. Navy office on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.

"For fiscal year 2009, we've already met our recruitment goal for the year. That's the first time that has happened in the history of the Navy. And we're now working on recruiting for fiscal year 2010."

Because the number of recruits has increased so dramatically, it has also affected the quality of recruits that the Navy accepts, Cousins says.

"Because the number of recruits has gone up, it has allowed us to raise our standards," he said.

"It has also allowed us to cut our (monthly) recruiting goals way down; so instead of seven recruits a month, our new goal is three to four recruits."

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