Recruiters Recall Patriotism of Post-9/11 America

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2011 — Like so many Amer­i­cans, Army Sgt. Cheri Depen­brock watched the hor­ror of 9/11 unfold from her office tele­vi­sion. What was dif­fer­ent for the Army recruiter was how it changed her job in the weeks after.

In sev­en years of help­ing ensure the Army met its recruit­ing goals, Depen­brock was used to reach­ing out to young peo­ple, telling them what the Army could do for them, and most­ly answer­ing their ques­tions about how they could get their col­lege paid for by sign­ing up. “It was almost always for col­lege, for mon­ey, and for hav­ing a full-time job,” she said, refer­ring to the rea­sons peo­ple enlist­ed.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed that. In the days, weeks and months there­after, Depen­brock, like mil­i­tary recruiters around the nation, watched in amaze­ment from her Cincin­nati office as peo­ple who nev­er would have thought of join­ing — or rejoin­ing, as many would have it — approached recruiters with the sole pur­pose of defend­ing Amer­i­ca.

“It was amaz­ing the peo­ple walk­ing into that office, the ages,” she said. “We had so many pri­or-ser­vice folks want­i­ng to come back. I was amazed at how many old­er peo­ple tried. I know some of them were in their fifties. And, mil­i­tary-wise, we couldn’t do any­thing for them.”

Some younger peo­ple with pri­or ser­vice did rejoin, Depen­brock said, and the first-time recruits were dif­fer­ent. While patri­o­tism has always dri­ven young peo­ple to ser­vice, it was almost always matched with a desire for col­lege mon­ey or new oppor­tu­ni­ties. Sud­den­ly, they weren’t ask­ing about mon­ey, she said.

“It was all about the patri­o­tism,” Depen­brock said. “They didn’t care about any­thing else. Mon­ey had noth­ing do with it. I swear, I think half those kids would have joined if we hadn’t paid them.”

An annu­al Pen­ta­gon sur­vey of young people’s propen­si­ty to join the mil­i­tary showed an 8-per­cent increase among young men like­ly to enlist imme­di­ate­ly after 9/11, and remained high until 2005, a Defense Depart­ment offi­cial said.

One of those young men was William Grigs­by, now an Army staff sergeant who enlist­ed in ear­ly 2002. “The events of 9/11 had every­thing to do with my deci­sion to enlist,” he said.

Grigs­by, an air­craft elec­tri­cian on a three-year detail as a recruiter in Hous­ton, grad­u­at­ed high school in June 2001 and was inde­ci­sive about his plans, first con­sid­er­ing the Army, then col­lege, and then decid­ing against both.

Three months lat­er, “I was work­ing a dead-end job at a gro­cery store,” Grigs­by recalled. He was dri­ving home from the night shift on the morn­ing of 9/11 when he heard a news report about two hijacked planes being flown into the World Trade Cen­ter in Man­hat­tan.

Almost imme­di­ate­ly after, Grigs­by said, his mind went back to join­ing the Army. As U.S. forces moved into Afghanistan to dis­man­tle al-Qai­da and their Tal­iban back­ers, “I watched in awe as our mil­i­tary forces took con­trol of the coun­try,” he said, adding that he had no reser­va­tions at the prospects of deploy­ing to war.

Recruiters from around the coun­try remem­ber post-9/11 as a time when many poten­tial recruits came to them.

Army Mas­ter Sgt. Juan Dozi­er calls him­self “a recruiter of two dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions.” There was the gen­er­a­tion before 9/11 — his gen­er­a­tion — who enlist­ed for var­i­ous ben­e­fits the mil­i­tary could pro­vide. “There wasn’t so much of a sense of pur­pose, of ‘What can I do for my coun­try?’ ” he said. “It was more, ‘I need the train­ing or edu­ca­tion mon­ey.’ ”

Dozi­er didn’t begrudge them — he was one of them. Raised in the tough South­side Chica­go neigh­bor­hood of Engle­wood, Dozi­er enlist­ed in the Army in 1989 as a way out. “The only thing I want­ed to do was have dif­fer­ent scenery,” he said.

“They took a chance on me being from South­side Chica­go,” Dozi­er said, adding that his recruiters asked him to take a bus to meet them out­side of his neigh­bor­hood because they were con­cerned about vio­lence there. “The only time they came and got me was when it was time for boot camp,” he said.

After serv­ing as a motor trans­porta­tion oper­a­tor in Ger­many, then Cal­i­for­nia and Texas, Dozi­er was work­ing as a recruiter in Colum­bia, S.C., when 9/11 occurred. Peo­ple began flow­ing into the recruit­ing sta­tion, and they were pre­pared to fight, he said.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and his pre­de­ces­sor, Robert M. Gates, have praised the more than 3 mil­lion young peo­ple who have joined the mil­i­tary since 9/11, all know­ing they like­ly would go to war.

Dozi­er com­pared their mind­set to that of peace­time recruits caught off guard by mil­i­tary inter­ven­tions such as the Per­sian Gulf War that began in 1990. “Back then kids were say­ing, ‘I didn’t join for this, and a lot of them were try­ing to get out,’ ” he said. “These kids now, they know what they’re sign­ing up for. For most of them, they know war is part of the job.”

Recruiters say they now hear a mix­ture of rea­sons for enlist­ing, with many poten­tial recruits still cit­ing patri­o­tism, but a grow­ing num­ber also look­ing for ben­e­fits such as health care.

“When they come in now, they’re look­ing at ben­e­fits,” Depen­brock said. “They’re not talk­ing about the GI Bill. — they’re talk­ing about a safe­ty net.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)