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Tech. Sgt. Jason DeFelice, based in Okinawa, recruits students and other potential airmen from all over the Pacific theater.
Tech. Sgt. Jason DeFelice, based in Okinawa, recruits students and other potential airmen from all over the Pacific theater. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Even as the Air Force seeks to discharge junior officers and others to reduce its overall force, Tech. Sgt. Jason DeFelice spreads his message across Okinawa and the Pacific theater: Airmen, we’re still hiring.

The Air Force still needs plenty of people to fill its junior enlisted ranks, said DeFelice, an Okinawa-based recruiter who arrived on island in July.

Since filling a recruiter slot that he said sat vacant for nearly a year, DeFelice has scoured Kadena High School for potential enlistees. But he hasn’t stopped there.

Despite the differences in military culture, DeFelice has found new airmen recruits among Marine families.

“It’s tough because a lot of Marine parents want their children to be Marines,” DeFelice said. “But we do get Marines who bring their sons and daughters by because their parents want to give them an option.”

DeFelice says he visits Camp Foster’s Kubasaki High School once each month to answer any Air Force questions.

The closest Marine recruiter is based on Guam, a Marine spokesman said. High school students who think Marine life is for them get in touch with Guam and complete much of the process over the phone and through mail, the spokesman said.

If a Marine recruiter did operate on Okinawa, that Marine would likely find as accepting an environment as anywhere outside the United States. It’s a far cry from the workings as a Los Angeles area recruiter, where DeFelice faced his share of difficulties.

“In the States you call kids who are interested, and their parents tell you that their sons are not joining the military and don’t call back,” he said.

Despite such opinions, DeFelice says he has never felt the same pressures as some Army recruiters, whose alleged practices led to internal investigations and retraining. In one case, the Army suspended two recruiters in Colorado in April after they allegedly encouraged a student to create a fake diploma and lie about his drug history.

The Air Force doesn’t have to fill the huge quotas that Army recruiters do.

And the war on terrorism is on many students’ minds when DeFelice talks to them.

“A lot of them have the thought of going over to Iraq,” DeFelice said. “I tell them that the majority of people over there are not Air Force.”

DeFelice estimates that 20 percent of the students he talks to enlist because they want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. They ask for jobs more likely to be deployed, including Special Forces, transportation or security forces specialties.

Kourtney Taylor, 18, surprised a lot of her friends, who she said considered her “too girly,” by asking for security forces training when she recently enlisted.

“I think that [their attitudes] just make me want to do it more,” said Taylor, a 2005 Kadena High School graduate who said she would be willing to go to Iraq.

So would Jeffrey Morgan, 19, who just signed a six-year commitment. After spending one year in college, Morgan figured he might as well get paid and trained while taking college courses in the military.

“I was the last person in high school who used to bring up joining the Air Force,” Morgan said. “But I talked to some friends who joined and said they were having a good time.

“And if they sent me to Iraq, I wouldn’t complain at all,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to test yourself.”

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