Ask any number of current servicemembers why they’ll sign up for another hitch — or why they’re getting out — and you’ll get that many different reasons.
But while a rise in deployments may be hindering recruitment of new U.S. military members, existing troops are re-enlisting at rates surpassing year-to-date goals set by the services. Through June, all branches of service had exceeded their year-to-date reenlistment goals, according to the military services.
The decision to continue serving her country is a no-brainer for Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Lunsford, who works in the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa administration support department. She has applied for a Navy nursing program, which includes a commission.
If not offered the program, she’ll get out and get her nursing degree and, she hopes, re-enter the Navy as an officer. “Either way, I’m going to stay in,” she said.
Lunsford served in the Middle East, including Iraq, from February to June 2003. She said she thinks the war in Iraq is both helping and hurting retention.
“It’s half and half,” she said. “Some people get out because they don’t want to go, and some people re-enlist just to go.”
Lance Cpl. Juan Harvey, a legal specialist with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, also has been to Iraq but does not plan to return. In the Corps for about two years, he plans to leave at the end of his enlistment to attend college.
“I was pretty motivated to go to Iraq,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe the war has hurt Marine Corps retention numbers. “I know a lot of Marines who are trying to go to Iraq. It’s almost a rite of passage if you go to war.”
But Pfc. Kileigh Susice, in South Korea with the 304th Signal Battalion at Camp Colbern, cited deployments — mostly to Iraq and Kuwait — as a reason she probably won’t re-enlist.
Because of deployments during her three years in the Army, she’s seen her 5-year-old son for a total of six months.
After her most recent deployment to Iraq, she returned to the States for six months before starting her current accompanied tour in South Korea. Otherwise, she said, “The military is great. … If I didn’t have to deploy it would be great — the easiest job with the best benefits.”
The length and uncertainty of deployments also is troubling, she said. Her six-month deployment to Iraq was extended to nine months.
“If it was a definite six-month rotation and you knew you would be going home for sure it would be a different story,” she said.
Army Spc. Brandon Howle, 24, is one year into his four-year tour and does not plan to re-enlist.
When he finishes his tour he’s “ready to move on to something new,” he said in an interview at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
He said the combat deployments aren’t really a factor in his decision to leave. “If I gotta go, I gotta go,” said the native of Bartow, Fla. “I knew it was a possibility when I joined.”
Staff Sgt. David Hernandez, of the 554th Red Horse Squadron at Osan, South Korea, has been in the Air Force almost nine years and has re-enlisted twice. He plans to do so again in 2010. “I got two kids,” said Hernandez. “They need money … I just joined so I could take care of my family, and that’s the reason why I stay in.”
Staff Sgt. Sasha McIlwain of the 621st Air Control Squadron at Osan has been in the Air Force more than 10 years and plans to re-enlist in September 2008. “The main reason is because I really love my job, and I work with some really great people and I have really great friends,” she said.
Increased deployments in the era of the war on terror have not “affected whether I stay in or not,” she added. She expects deployments and sees them as part of her military career and her job as a weapons director, she said.
“We know that with whatever unit we go to, we’re going to end up in Afghanistan or Iraq,” McIlwain said. “It comes with the job.”
Airman 1st Class Angela Earp of the 51st Munitions Squadron is on her first enlistment, and Osan Air Base is her first duty station.
She probably won’t re-enlist, she said, because “I want to get out and go to college.”
The deployments and stresses of post-Sept. 11 military service haven’t affected her decision, she said. “I have two brothers in the Marines,” she said. “I joined after September 11 … If anything, it just made me want to join more.”
T.D. Flack, Juliana Gittler, Franklin Fisher, Fred Zimmerman and Leo Shane III contributed to this story.