Pandemic brings uncertainty for youths trying to join the military

Staff Sgt. Elysia Wilson, 168th Wing production recruiter, helps enlist a new recruit using a video conference call April 16, 2020, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.


By BOB KALINOWSKI | The Citizens' Voice | Published: April 30, 2020

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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Military-bound Class of 2020 members such as Hunter Johnson are waiting to see if the coronavirus outbreak will delay or disrupt their plans of joining the armed forces.

Johnson, a U.S. Air Force recruit from Exeter, says his boot camp date for this summer is still on schedule as of now.

Meanwhile, other students who haven’t finished their pre-ship off processing might have to wait longer to start basic training.

“I’m just waiting to ship out now,” said Johnson, 18, a senior at Wyoming Area High School. “Boot camp was shut down, but it’s supposed to open back up soon, so I’m not sure if I’ll be delayed. It’s just a waiting game.”

While the coronavirus has shut down much of ordinary life, the military must still replenish its ranks, said Sgt. Frank Arnaldo, an Air Force recruiter based out of Wilkes-Barre Twp.

“Processing has slowed down a little bit, but we are not going to stop recruiting,” Arnaldo said. “The mission doesn’t stop, so we are constantly looking for new recruits.”

Recruiters, who usually rely on in-person contact in schools and at career fairs, are doing their best by “teleworking,” Arnaldo said. In-person contact is only done safely and rarely when an vital task, like a signature on an important military document, is needed, he said. Johnson said he’s been training outside while taking his dogs for walks and runs, but he’s confident he’s in shape after playing on the school’s lacrosse and cross country teams.

Whether he ships off on schedule or is delayed, Johnson is looking forward to serving his country.

“When we were first looking at careers in eighth grade, all the kids were saying ‘I am going to college’ or ‘I want to be a doctor.’ I was like, ‘Nah, I want to go to the military.’ I want to do my part,” Johnson said.

Military service is big in Johnson’s family.

His brother, Dylan, is a Marine veteran. One of his sisters, Hayley, is in the Navy and another sister, Madison, is in the Air Force.

Michelle Zapotoski, high school guidance counselor for Hanover Area, said the coronavirus outbreak is likely more of an issue for juniors looking to enter the military since oftentimes seniors already have laid the groundwork for service prior to their senior year.

“It will affect the juniors because the military doesn’t have frequent contact with them now,” she said.

Hanover Area had to cancel its Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, which the school’s hosts twice a year.

Jace Andrews, a senior at Hanover Area entering the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, said he’s still scheduled to leave for basic training in June.

“I’m not sure if that was pushed back,” Andrews, 18, of Hanover Twp., said.

Andrews said his assigned non-commissioned officer has been preparing recruits via a group text message chat, making sure they are getting in shape and ready for service.

“We have a group chat with like over 50 people,” Andrews said. “She guides us along on what we have to get done. She is making sure everything is getting done.”

©2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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