Reid said she was "dead set" against joining the military, but was won over by the prospect of traveling and establishing a career while being paid.

She'll likely leave for boot camp in March. She visited a recruiting center in Laurel last week.

"I'm excited, nervous, happy and sad," she said. "A lot of different emotions at one time."

Reid's parents say they couldn't be more thrilled. Her father recruited doctors and other medical professionals into the Army.

"The standards are so high now," Clinton Winder said. "It's not granddad's Army anymore. You have to bring your A game."

Staff Sgt. Victor Diaz, who works at Army recruiting centers in Laurel and Silver Spring, says he tries to appeal to young people like Reid, who have ambition but need direction. He touts the military's educational opportunities as well as the chance to learn a trade that can be carried over into civilian life.

He also finds he has to assuage fears about the possibility of being sent to a war or conflict zone.

Kelm, the Marine recruiter, says some potential recruits believe that all Marines carry guns on the front lines. That's not the case, says Kelm, who was a firefighter in the Marines before switching to recruiting.

Likewise, Novo says some Navy recruits think they'll spend four straight years on a ship at sea. In reality, she says, cruises last months, not years. And in her 13 years, she says, she has never been on a long cruise.

Recruiters often are looking for young people to fill specific roles. The Marines, for example, need tuba players for their bands. The Navy needs sailors to work in nuclear power engineering, explosive ordnance disposal, air rescue and special forces.

As the military gets smaller and the demands of warfare become more complex, the recruiters have to adapt.

"We need the best and the brightest," Hartley said. "There certainly is room for some people with a few bumps in the road but we are trying to take those youth that have the core values, who have integrity, because that's what the Air Force is all about."

Just as it's not as easy to join the military, it's not as easy to be a recruiter. In the Marine Corps, for example, just 5 percent of recruits volunteer on their own. The rest are recruited through career fairs, phone calls, community events and the like.

"Our recruiters are trained really well in salesman skills," Sgt. Bryan Nygaard said. "Our Marines are pushed to complete the mission. Marines, period, always get the job done."