Marines, other services find it harder to find a few good men -- and women

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- The effort involved in being one of The Few shows in the sweat-sodden shirt of Adonis Daniels, 19, a Woodlawn High School graduate, as he slogs his way through Marine boot camp here.

The essence of becoming one of The Proud can be seen in the taut figure of Donna Collier, 28, a University of Maryland College Park graduate, as she receives congratulations from the camp commander on being the fittest recruit in her platoon.

And in the hope of joining The Brave, Sabrina Bonasera, 18, is fighting fatigue and homesickness, 500 miles away from her family in Glen Burnie.

Despite the post-Cold War reductions in military ranks, the Marine Corps, like all the other armed services, still needs a few good men and women.

These days, it is no easy task to find them.

With the end of the Cold War, better-paying job prospects in the civilian sector and the impression that the shrinking armed forces do not need recruits, young Americans are becoming less interested in military service, according to experts.

On average, a Marine recruiter makes 200 contacts at a cost of $5,000 before he enlists a single volunteer.

"I think we are probably in the most challenging recruiting environment we have experienced since the mid-1970s," said Brig. Gen. Jack W. Klimp, a 1968 Naval Academy graduate who commands the Parris Island boot camp. Later this year, he will move to Washington to head the Marine recruiting and training command.

During the past five years, the size of the active forces has been reduced from 1.98 million in 1991 to 1.56 million in March, on its way to a target of 1.45 million by 1999.

"With the downsizing, there is less and less contact between the military and the American people," General Klimp said.

"Years back, there was a base in almost every town. We are finding it significantly harder to find individuals who want to join the Marines."

Turn to minorities, women

The services are turning to minorities and women to help reach recruitment goals.

The proportion of black recruits in all the services increased about 20 percent between the first half of fiscal 1994 and the same period this fiscal year.

The Navy's enlistment of blacks showed the greatest change, up from 17 percent a year ago to 21 percent, according to the latest Pentagon figures.

The Army led the way with 25 percent black recruitment.

The proportion of female recruits for all the services increased from 17 percent last year to 19 percent so far this year.

Here, too, the Navy made the biggest gains, boosting female recruitment from 14 percent last year to 22 percent this year. But the Air Force ranks highest, recruiting one woman for every three men.

The Marine Corps is following the diversity trend. Its recruitment of blacks has risen from 1,800 by this time last year to 2,100 to date this year.

Last year, 1,700 women crossed the causeway to Parris Island -- the only Marine boot camp for women.

This year, 1,900 are expected to arrive, and the long-term target for female recruits is 2,600.

Female recruitment by the Marines is restrained by the Corps' emphasis on ground combat missions -- infantry, armor, artillery -- which are still closed to women.

Female Marines interviewed said there is scant pressure to put women, who now operate in combat support roles, into those positions.

"Males are meant to do the hey-diddle-diddle, right-up-the-middle. So let them do it," said Lt. Col. Gloria Jane Harmon, commander of the female training battalion. "If they get into trouble, we will help them out."

What draws them?

So what attracts young people to uniformed service these days?

"There are countries where some children wake up and they don't have a house or a table to go to for breakfast," said Woodlawn's Adonis Daniels, taking a break from tackling the Marine confidence-building course.

"I lay in my bunk and think about what may I do for tomorrow's children," he said. "When I think that, that tells me I can take one more day here. There have been times that I have cried.

"I wrote my mother and told her I loved her and I wished I could wakeup in my own bed. But if you don't go through that stage, what's the point of being here?

"If I can come out of here with my head up and the proud title of Marine, it let's me know I am separate from ordinary people."

Donna Collier of Germantown, Md., became eligible to apply for a commission after graduating from the University of Maryland College Park.

For her, the challenge of boot camp was personal.

"I thought it would be good experience to be enlisted first, to get into better shape and to be mentally stronger," she said after completing the course with a perfect score of 300 in physical fitness.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," said Ms. Collier, a philosophy major.

She now plans to specialize in aviation electronics and apply for officer candidate school.

Real test is drill sergeant

Physical fitness is not the only challenge the recruit faces at Parris Island. For many, the real test is the first encounter with the drill instructor.

A carefully choreographed display of physical, verbal and psychological dominance, the meeting leaves the recruits badgered, bawled out, bewildered -- and often bemoaning their decision to enlist.

"We expect you to give 100 percent of yourself at all times," thundered Staff Sgt. Gary J. Sanders at a platoon of fresh recruits. "We will give every effort to train you, even after some of you have given up on yourselves."

Sabrina Bonasera wonders whether she really belongs in Platoon 4060, Company N, of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She recalled her initial exposure to the drill sergeants, saying: "It was terrifying."

"We didn't sleep for the first two or three days. Most of the female recruits and I try to motivate each other. They are in the same fix as I am. They want to stay, and they want to go home. The way we get through boot camp is counting the Sundays. After this Sunday, we have nine more Sundays to go. We live for Sundays."

On Sundays, the recruits get four hours of prayer time, when they can attend church, wash their fatigues and shine their boots.

She joined the Marines, she said, to help her father, a single parent with two sons at home in Ridgewater Court, Glen Burnie, and to earn money for college.

But so dispirited has she become with Marine life that she was enrolled in a motivation program for waverers, which included witnessing the pride of Marines at their graduation parade.

"I still want to go home, and I still want to stay here," she said after watching the parade. "I made a commitment to myself, to my family and to the government, and I don't want to break that commitment."

'Failure to adapt'

The highest cause of female attrition from the Marine Corps, according to Colonel Harmon, commander of the female training battalion, is "failure to adapt."

It occurs mainly during the first two weeks of training. The other major cause of separation for both men and women is injury during training.

"If we can get a female through the first two weeks, she will usually stay," she said.

Nevertheless, attrition among female Marine recruits is 50 percent higher than among their male counterparts -- 18 percent against 11.8 percent.

But it's being reduced. Two years ago, nearly one out of every three female recruits were released from the program.

"I think female attrition is historically going to run higher, just because it is tough to be a Marine," said General Klimp, the camp commander. "This is the most demanding military training program in the world."

Once through the gates of Parris Island, all recruits are basically subjected to the same dawn-to-dusk training rigors, with allowances made only for the weaker upper-bodies of women.

To be accepted into training, men must be able to do two chin-ups, 35 sit-ups in two minutes, and a 1 1/2 -mile run in 13 minutes 30 seconds. Women must do a 12-second flexed arm-hang, 19 sit-ups in one minute, and a three-quarter mile run in seven minutes.

Three months, countless challenges and endless exercises later, those who pass muster earn the right to wear the eagle, globe and anchor emblem of the U.S. Marine.

For David Packer, 20, of Laurel, enlisting in the Marines was "a wake-up call to manhood."

It is his second time at Parris Island. His first stint ended in injury 18 months ago.

"My desire for it is now much more," he said. "To be able to call yourself a protector of the country is an awesome title. I know this is my job."

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