FORT MEADE, Md., Sept. 7, 2011 – Most of the young men and women processing this week through the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station here were too young to understand exactly what was happening when terrorists launched the 9/11 attacks on the United States a decade ago.
Recruits, most schoolchildren during the 9/11 terror attacks, raise their right hands at the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station to take their oath of enlistment, Aug. 16, 2011. DOD photo by Donna Miles
Steven Schmitz, the son of a retired Marine now following in his father's footsteps, was a fourth-grader at the time in Stafford, Va.
“The whole school went on lockdown, but they didn't tell the students what was happening,” he recalled. “It was all confusing for me. It was a very scary day.”
Schmitz's fears were compounded when he arrived home and saw TV images of the twin towers collapsing in New York. He didn't see his own father, stationed at the time at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., for a solid week. Soon after, he watched many of his friends' parents deploy into combat, and the deployment train has never stopped.
Ten years later, Schmitz is among the “9/11 generation” that grew up understanding the threat terrorism poses to the United States.
And by electing to join a military that's been at war for almost a decade, he's among what Army Lt. Col. Christopher Beveridge, the Baltimore MEPS station commander, calls a “1-percenter.”
Less than 1 percent of Americans volunteer to serve their country in uniform, Beveridge told a recent group of recruits as they took their final tests and physicals before entering the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
“You are part of a very elite group,” Beveridge said. “It speaks volumes about your character.”
Running one of the country's busiest MEPS stations, Beveridge processes about 6,000 new members into the military every year. Many, he said, are attracted by career and educational opportunities.
“But for the vast majority, there's a patriotic element there,” he said. “We all watch the news every day and know what's going on in the world. And these young men and women, they want to serve.”
That propensity is reflected in the quality of recruits now entering the military, Beveridge said. Almost all are high school graduates. Many receive top scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery of tests. Waivers have become few and far between.
“Recruiters are able to be extremely selective,” Beveridge said.
Sitting alongside dozens of other young men and women at the MEPS doing final preparations before she ships off to basic training Sept. 12, Mary McDonald serves as a distinguished example of today's recruits.
With a degree from Columbia University under her belt, along with an internship at the prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, McDonald knew she had a lot of career choices.
But at age 24, she knows exactly what she wants. “I can't think of anything better than to lead soldiers, period,” she said.
Her goal, she explained, is to complete basic training and get accepted into Officer Candidate School. Her dream is to become an Army military intelligence officer.
Like most of today's recruits, McDonald said the 9/11 attacks shaped her worldview and her decision to join the military.
She was a high school freshman in Hastings-on-Hudson outside New York City when terrorists launched the attacks. McDonald recalled that she was in biology class, hearing loudspeakers call students by name to the principal's office and TVs being rolled into the classrooms.
In the days that followed U.S. flags appeared everywhere -- on houses and on cars, McDonald recalled.
“There was a huge outpouring of support,” she said. “It reflected the fundamentals of the America spirit, that we can overcome this.”
Looking back, McDonald expressed regret that her generation was considered too young to be a part of that effort.
“We weren't asked to do anything,” she said. “So now, I want to make a contribution. My generation is very eager to serve. We just want an opportunity.”
The 9/11 attacks “very directly affected my worldview,” McDonald said. And events under way now, including military operations around the world, she said, will shape America's foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
“I want to be at the center of it,” McDonald said. “I want to deploy 100 percent.”
For Schmitz and some others at the MEPS, military service is a family tradition.
Seventeen-year-old Corey Cooper, just entering his senior year at a high school, said he wants to be a Marine like his dad. He joined Air Force Junior ROTC and elected to join the Marines under the delayed entry program.
“I already knew my decision. I had my mind made up,” Cooper said.
Twenty-two-year-old Calvin Sterrett had just received his nursing degree in June from Baltimore's Sojourner-Douglass College when he opted to join the Navy Reserve.
Sterrett said his friends thought he was “crazy” for entering the military. But he was intrigued by the opportunity to travel and learn new skills as an operations specialist, and he decided to sign on.
“I'm ready to go,” Sterrett said as he prepared to ship out for boot camp at Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill. “This is something I want to do.”
At age 26, Adrian Thomas tried some different paths before deciding to join the Air Force. He picked up a variety of odd jobs after high school before landing a position with the U.S. Postal Service.
“But in the back of my mind, I always had the urge to serve my country,” Thomas said. “I always felt that the military was something I wanted to do.”
Thomas was 16 years old during the 9/11 attacks, old enough to realize the magnitude of what had happened.
“Everything stopped that day, and all we did was watch the news,” he said. “It sticks with you, and it's a big part of the reason why I am here today.”
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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