WASHINGTON – Staff Sgt. Shawn Potwin was talking to a potential recruit Tuesday about joining the Marines, when the attack on the World Trade Center unfolded on a TV in his office.
Potwin, who is stationed in Columbia, said the recruit was already leaning toward enlisting, but the devastating attack finalized the decision for him.
“Everyone is coming from every which direction to come back and help out and it’s awesome,” Potwin said of the surge in recruiting inquiries that came in the hours after Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
But while recruiters in Maryland and across the country have seen an increase in calls, they said many of those who are inquiring are either well past the age of service or are otherwise unfit.
“There were people who were like 60 years old coming in saying, `Hey, what can I do?'” Potwin said. “It makes me feel proud.”
Cmdr. Steve Lowry, public affairs officer for the Navy recruiting command, said there has been “an increase in interest” across the nation, but that has not meant a surge in new recruits.
“As far as qualified people who want to join the Navy, they certainly haven’t been lining up outside the door,” Lowry said.
The national spokesman for the Army recruiting command, Douglas Smith, said there was no significant increase in serious inquiries from eligible people, but there were considerably more telephone calls from veterans and civilians interested in helping out.
Smith called it touching that veterans who had already served would ask about coming back to serve their country again.
“I think it’s wonderful that we are getting these calls,” he said. “We’re proud to get them.”
Although more military personnel may be needed over the next few months, President Bush on Friday ordered 50,000 reserves to active duty and no branch of the service is lowering its standards for service qualification, officials said.
Recruiters cautioned that it is too soon to tell if there will be any serious increase in enlistment because of the attacks.
“Making a decision to enlist takes serious thought,” Smith said. “It’s not something that people take lightly,” he said, and the military wants people who have put serious thought into their decision.
Gunnery Sgt. Ken Christo, a Marine recruiter stationed in Cumberland, said he did not see any surge in interest, but that may be because there was no easily identifiable enemy in Tuesday’s attacks.
“The best example we have is during World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor,” he said. “People went down to sign up the next day, but the difference is war was also declared the next day.”
Given the uncertainty of this situation and the more stringent enlistment requirements, Smith said the Army is in no position to speculate on how many people will be signing up.
“We’re being cautious and we think it will be a matter of weeks or months before we will be able to make a final assessment,” he said.
And Lowry said that people who join in the heat of the moment might end up disappointed. Months pass before a person signs up for duty and actually joins other troops in service.
“Because of the enlistment process, even if the person were to say I want to join up today, it would be three or four months before that person went into active recruiting training,” he said.