By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photos by Ted Soqui|
ON A RECENT SATURDAY, just a few days before President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, spoke of America’s imminent “liberation for Iraq,” two young men walked into an Army recruiting office located in a generic mini-mall, one block north of the University of Southern California campus. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and the mall, at 32nd and Hoover, was nearly deserted. The neighboring offices, operated by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, were dark. But the Army command, run by Sergeant First Class Arturo Ramos-Martinez, was coming to life — slowly. The two men, dressed in loose pants, T-shirts and low-top b-ball shoes, had recently enlisted in the United States Army, and they were at the Hoover Street detail to participate in what the Army calls “Delay Entry Program & Maintenance.” Dan Maka, 21, had signed his contract to serve a six-year hitch, on January 1. His friend, Carlos Montiel, 20, had joined a month earlier, on December 3.
Maka and Montiel are two of the newest recruits in a year-round, nonstop ritual of inducting 196,000 young Americans into the All-Volunteer Force. They are future soldiers, ones who might get lucky and never see combat in Iraq, say, but then again, who just as easily might get dropped someday soon in Korea, Afghanistan, Indonesia or any other spot on the planet that comes within the cross hairs of the interventionist Bush Doctrine of global security.
Getting inspired, tired and
measured on the way to
ridding the world of evildoers
It costs the Department of Defense roughly $11,000 to lure in each recruit, a price tag that has doubled in the last decade, in part because 64 percent of young Americans say they definitely would not volunteer for military service under any conditions. And now with the White House openly itching for a war — and against a country it claims bristles with chemical and biological weapons — recruiters are working overtime to meet their quotas.
That Saturday morning, the atmosphere was relaxed and casual. The gathering was really just a warm-up, part of a weeding-out process that is a mixture of welcoming and mild discipline. Coffee, then push-ups, informal chitchat, then indoctrination. And so, Maka sat upon a desk, his large frame a portrait of inertia, while Montiel lounged in the chair at Maka’s desk, his arms in his lap, his legs stretched in front of him. Neither had shed his street look quite yet, Maka in somewhat baggy clothes, Montiel with a pierced tongue and a black shark’s tooth pinned into each of his earlobes.
When asked why they’d joined the Army, both answered readily: to become Apache-helicopter mechanics. The Army, Montiel explained, offers “experience, a rÃ©sumÃ©, and what better way than doing it here? We get an opportunity to do our careers, plus we are protecting our country.” Dan Maka added, “They like to hire people from the Army. It shows we have discipline and can do the things when they need to get done.”
The men were soon joined by Santos Sarmiento, 18, who’d recently graduated from Wilson High School, and was scheduled, following basic training, to become an infantryman. Alfredo Alatorre arrived next. An 18-year-old senior from Manual Arts High School, he will train to become a “tanker,” which, as the name implies, is someone who pilots an M1-A1 Abrams tank — machines of battlefield warfare that, as Alatorre points out, “have a lot more gadgets, and don’t have to stop to be shooting at targets.”
“Hip rotation,” Sergeant Alberto Gonzalez called out.
“Hip rotation,” the recruits softly replied, as they twisted languorously from side to side.
Throughout the stretching routine, a few of those who could sounded off, in rhythm with the exercise, “one, two, three, four . . . eight, nine, one-zero” — ten — after which the sergeant said, “Relax.” The crew managed a halfhearted “Never” in response. While not exactly enthusiastic — and clearly out of shape — the bunch were willing. They didn’t have much Ã©lan, or esprit de corps, but they weren’t ready to quit, either.
Tired, hot and thirsty after a half-mile run, the group made their way back to Sergeant Ramos’ office, and if they were worried that looming boot camp would make this workout seem like a breeze, they weren’t letting on. If they were trying to connect this genteel rehearsal to the hard and ugly face of war, they weren’t saying so out loud. If they were feeling revved up and gung-ho, and ready, as President Bush has declared, “to rid the world of evildoers,” they were too winded to show it.