SPECIAL SERIES : The War Issue
Young Recruits Eager to Serve Despite Danger
High schoolers turn to the military for adventure and benefits
March 12, 2006 8:06 PM
Despite protests, negative publicity, and questions of validity swarming the Iraq war, there are still many kids fresh out of high school who feel drawn to military service.
“I have to do it,” said Jackie Oau, 18, who enlisted in the Navy. “I don’t fit in. What other kid do you know that wants to go to Iraq? Everyone just thinks I’m crazy.”
Knowing the potential danger, Oau, a senior in high school, enlisted last summer because it was something he always wanted to do. He sees serving in Iraq as a “hell of an experience.”
“Where else would you get the experience that would put you on the edge, literally,” he said. “Basically you're in a foreign country where they don't want you. All the odds are against you.”
This weekend will mark the third anniversary of the Iraq war. Some students say the issue is not just about fighting for one’s country anymore. To 17-year-old Julian, who declined to give his full name since some of his family is unaware of his enlistment, joining the Navy means travel, job training, and a free college education.
“I liked the opportunities given to me in the military,” he said. “The fact that they're going to train and trust an 18-year-old kid to handle millions of dollars of equipment seems cool. Plus it would give me a great start in pursuing certain career paths.”
Although Julian does not want to go to Iraq, he plans to be active for about a year before joining the reserves and applying for college, where he plans to study political science.
Chris Wan, 16, of Lincoln High School, wants to join the Air Force to gain the skills to be a commercial pilot. Air Force training will give him the required job experience in just a short time. He has already completed flight training as a cadet of the Air Force Auxiliary, which is the support network for the Air Force. According to Wan, the youngest cadets recruited for the Auxiliary are in the eighth grade.
“I actually hate recruiters," Wan said. "They don’t show what the military is. They tell you lies basically to lure you into the military. They also lie about the benefits and the life after.”
Jessie Tseng, 19, a Private First Class in the Army, signed up in her senior year of high school before she graduated and has been in for almost two years.
Tseng thinks people like Jackie Oau should not be so enthusiastic about going overseas until they talk to people who have been there. Though she has not been to Iraq herself, she has heard stories from otehr soliders. She recently watched a fellow solider cut into his forearm for no reason.
“This guy’s all messed up because of what he saw (in Iraq). He just walked into the room and started cutting himself,” she said, adding that she would still like to go Iraq and experience it for herself. “You don’t want to look back and say you never went there."
Tseng said she would rather be trained by someone who has been in Iraq and actually knows what they are talking about.
“It’s basically about gaining respect here,” she said. “If you become a leader you want your soldiers to look up to you for what you’ve done.”
Tseng's friend Corinna Leung, 19, says she does not support the war. She also does not want to see Tseng go, and worries about her safety.
“They should respect her for her,” said Leung. “Not because she went to Iraq.”
“She feels like the army is teaching her a lot about the outside world, but she could have learned that without the army if she really wanted to,” said Leung, a child devolvement major at SF State.
Leung also said that she wished Tseng would have gone to college and pursued a career rather than take the military path.
“I know that she was a good student and stuff, so I didn’t understand why she went to the army,” she said.
Tseng, who completed 35 units while on base in Ft. Louis, Wash., feels there is honor and nobility in serving your country, and most other Americans recognize that.
“When you get out of California, people support the military,” Tseng said. “If you go out to eat in your uniform, people will come up to you and shake your hand and even pay for your food.”
She said that nearly every Sunday, supporters stand on a bridge outside the base, rain or shine, waving American flags and holding sings that read, “We support you!” and “We’re here because you’re here.”
“Because of them, it makes me feel like I’m doing something good,” she said.
Tseng said the community feeling on base is one of the perks of being in the military.
“It’s a really good place to be,” she said. “You always have somebody watching over you and making sure you do everything you’re supposed to be doing.”
Tseng said her superiors make sure she visits the doctor when she is supposed to and gets all the shots she needs. They also check on her financial stability and keep her updated on what her schedule will be like.
“You know for a fact you’re going to get paid every two weeks … you’re guaranteed food everyday and you know you have a place to stay.”
Though Tseng feels a sense of belonging and security, her friends and family will still fear the uncertainty that awaits her in Iraq.
“There’s just more out there than the army,” Leung said.
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