Mile Hill center becomes ground zero for armed forces recruiting

Recruiter NC1 Alex Eck meets with SKHS senior Benjamin Hisel-Ritz, who is considering joining the Navy after his graduation next year - Charlie Bermant
Recruiter NC1 Alex Eck meets with SKHS senior Benjamin Hisel-Ritz, who is considering joining the Navy after his graduation next year
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

Both the Army and Navy recruiting stations are relocating to a new facility near Towne Center on Mile Hill, offering easier public access and closer proximity to South Kitsap High School.

“We expect to get more traffic here,” said recruiter NC1 Alex Eck, who supervises the Navy office. “This is a better location, with more room than we had before.”

The recruiting stations are moving from a site at Jackson and Lund, creating a joint Armed Forces Recruiting Center. A ribbon-cutting for the new facility is planned at noon on Sept. 21.

Even though the new office is close to the high school, the office does not expect to recruit directly from class.

Today's military is not a last resort for underachieving high schoolers who have fallen too far behind in their studies.

“We require all our candidates to have a high school degree,” Eck said. “We will look at candidates with a GED on a case-by-case basis.”

Candidates with a degree are also given special consideration, channelled into an officer training program that matches their chosen field.

The military hasn’t changed with its characterization of positions as “ratings,” but position the openings with the more understandable “jobs.”

“The idea of ‘jobs’ is easier for the community to relate to,” Eck said. “We have a wide range of jobs, depending on the area of interest. This goes from being a hospital corpsman to working in the nuclear power field.”

The recruiting process follows a clear path. Candidates are first subjected to an assessment interview, determining their medical and “moral” eligibility — which determines basic feelings about themselves and their country.

They are given a practice test, a version of the more complicated Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery administered to all candidates.

Those who pass this first hurdle are sent to the processing station in Seattle for a physical and a meeting with the job classifier.

If they pass, they are sent to basic training, which takes place outside of Chicago.

While past drug use does not disqualify someone for service, each candidate must pass at least three drug tests screening for a variety of substances. A breathalyzer to determine alcohol blood levels is also administered the morning of the physical.

Eck said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” procedure with regard to sexual preference is still in effect. If a candidate volunteers that they are gay the case is then referred up the chain of command and out of Eck’s control.

This is standard operating procedure. The local office operates within strict parameters that define the most predictable situations.

Anything out of the ordinary — including a request for a newspaper interview — is referred to a higher authority.

With the Army and Navy recruiting stations in the same location, potential recruits choose one or the other as part of an “emotional decision,” according to Eck.

This can be based on simple preferences — driving a tank versus serving on a ship — but many times the preference can’t really be explained.

And while voluntary military service is positioned as a career choice, each recruit has a balance of of job ambition and patriotism.

“I think you have to have a certain amount of patriotism to consider this,” Eck said.

Eck said the military — and especially boot camp — is a maturing experience for all participants.

“We see a lot of changes in the men and women who go through boot camp,” he said. “They develop a sense of discipline. I have never seen a case where they don’t come out of boot camp sharper and smarter.”

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