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Recruiters tap new vein of patriotism

By Staff
EAGER TO SERVE Air Force recruiter Staff Sgt. Patricia Strickland, left, a veteran of the Gulf War, talks with World War II Army Air Corps veteran Louis Castano about reenlisting. Recruiters across the country report much greater interest in military service. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Sept. 16, 2001
A wave of patriotism in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks is credited with resurgent interest in military service and local recruiting stations are busy keeping up with the demand.
As interviews at several recruiting stations showed last week, the renewed interest in military service appeals not only to young people looking for a career or a way to serve their country.
The interest is across the board, from an 18-year-old Kemper County High School graduate to a practicing Meridian physician, from a Vietnam vet to a former bomber pilot who flew missions in the old Army Air Corps in World War II.
Recruiters are finding that the vein of American patriotism runs deep. While military service has always had it appeal to some, this beats anything they've seen lately.
None of their "trainees"  a category of mostly young people who have signed up but not yet reported for basic training have flinched at potentially serving in what President Bush described as "the first war of the 21st century. The phones are ringing and all sorts of people are coming by for information.
The U.S. military is all-voluntary and while the Defense Department is calling up some reservists, there are no plans to restore the draft.
At the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Office in Meridian Thursday, Staff Sgt. Patricia Strickland, a veteran of the Gulf War, was visited by a 78-year-old veteran who wanted to become a soldier again.
Castano, of Meridian, is a native of Colombia, South America. He flew B-29 bombers in the Pacific during World War II. He earned his citizenship along with his discharge papers at the end of the war. He was shot down, wounded, and said he would proudly do it all over again.
Most recruiting offices shut down Tuesday after terrorist attacks on the United States, but reopened Wednesday answer many calls from people eager to defend their country.
Strickland said she is currently working with 15 trainees, people who signed up for service prior to Tuesday, and that none of them have any reservations about going ahead with their plans.
One of the trainees, Dion Cox, 18, of Sinai, graduated from Kemper County High School this year. He is scheduled to report for basic training in November.
Other retirees who have contacted Strickland wanting to become active again include Dr. Robert Jordan, 52, a family practice physician with Rush Foundation Hospital. He retired as a Lt. Col. from the U.S. Army Reserves in 1994.
Jordan said he decided to try to reactivate after he saw the devastation and the need Tuesday.
Shelton Massey, 49, of Forest, works at Badcock Home Furnishings Center in Meridian. A Vietnam veteran, he retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1990 as an aircraft mechanic crew chief after 20 years of service. He said he decided to work on getting reactivated Tuesday afternoon after he got over the initial shock of the terrorist attacks.
Recruiters are not divulging specific numbers, but the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps recruiting offices in Meridian all confirmed they had "numerous calls" from potential recruits last week.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at sgillespie@themeridianstar.com.

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