Last year, right before the 4th of July, the Des Moines Register ran a feature on five high school graduates who had volunteered for military service. Their stated reasons for doing so, and their seeming inability to comprehend the risks involved, inspired me to write a diary on why young people join the all-volunteer military during wartime.
To coincide with the 4th of July this year, the Des Moines Register again ran a feature about a recent high school graduate who has signed up for military service. I thought the kid's comments, and those of his parents, were revealing.
Reading last year's story about the five new military recruits, I noticed that
none said they signed up because it's our duty to protect our country, or that we need to fight the terrorists over there so they won't attack us here, or that we need to bring democracy to Iraqis, or that we need to help reshape the Middle East. On the contrary, all seems focused on what military service would do for their future careers.
This struck me as odd, since we were more than two years into a war with no end in sight.
It's like the inverse of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, who prattle on supporting the war is but would never dream of having anyone in their families sign up to fight. The people signing up for military duty talk about the exciting things they'll learn to do, as if getting sent to war is not a real possibility.
Now that another year has passed and hundreds more Americans have died in Iraq, I remain mystified by the kids who sign up for military service with no apparent fear of being sent to Iraq.
What does new recruit Justin Nisser, from the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights, have to say in this year's feature?
Like many who sign up for military service, it runs in the family for Justin. His dad was in the Air Force and later the Air National Guard.
Justin commented that
"I saw how much my Dad loved it and everything he was able to do for us because he was so good at his job [...]"
Not that there wasn't a downside to Dad's military service:
"But he also had to be gone a lot. He missed a lot of my hockey games, sometimes missed a whole season."
But hey, Justin is an unmarried 18-year-old, not a married guy with kids.
He's excited about his career path: basic training starting in August, followed by technical school. Next January, he'll return to Des Moines to be a firefighter with the Air National Guard unit based here. He'll report for duty one weekend a month and two to three weeks a year "to further hone his skills in crash, fire and rescue procedures."
Like the new recruits I read about last year, Justin is really focused on what military service will do for him:
"I think it will be a great experience, visiting places and other countries and stuff, and learning my job so fast," he said. "Then next year I'll start college and it will be paid for, and I can study to be an accountant or something."
Justin's parents agree. Dad Steve Nisser said that when the Air National Guard recruiter came to their house,
"He didn't push, but he explained all of the opportunities, the benefits, and everything they could do for him."
Nisser said the possibilities were promising: "I was sitting there thinking, 'What a great opportunity for my son.' "
Mom Tina Nisser admitted that she started to "freak out" when she saw her son being sworn in, but
Then I just started reminding myself that he'll be learning a career already. He'll be a firefighter before some kids finish their first semester of college."
Now, the Des Moines Register did gently hint that "numerous families nationwide" worry about attempts to recruit soon-to-be high school graduates "in times of active conflict."
What does the Nisser family think about the possibility that Justin might be sent to Iraq?
Justin told the reporter that
he doesn't allow himself to be afraid he'll be sent to Iraq.
"It's a job," he said, "and I'll do my job."
Justin's mother told the reporter that
her son's decision didn't faze her at first because as a longtime military wife, she taught herself to "not think about what could happen."
Justin's father may have thought about what could happen. The article says Justin initially talked to an Army recruiter, but Steve Nisser invited someone from the Air National Guard over to their house instead. Could it be that he thought this option would be safer for his son? The newspaper feature does not say so. I know National Guard units from Iowa have been sent to Iraq, but I don't know if any of them were Air National Guard. Fellow Kossacks, please take the poll and share your views on why kids today would assume that they will only have to put in a few months of military service before getting college paid for and going on with their life.