by Gus Lubin

“This is Staff Sergeant Long from the Marines. Yessir. I’m calling for Brian.” On a Saturday morning around 10 a.m., in a small office at Hanes Mall, Staff Sgt. Brian Long and three other Marine recruiters make calls to lists of seniors at area high schools. Their mission for the day, according to station leader Master Sgt. Jared Terry, is to make two appointments for Monday. Their mission on Monday will be to make two appointments for Tuesday, and so forth.

“You go to East Forsyth High School?” Sergeant Long asks. “You used to. Did you already graduate? Did you transfer somewhere? Did you drop out? Aw man. Why did you have to drop out?” Sergeant Long is dressed in uniform, a short-sleeved green shirt and blue trousers with a red stripe down the middle. His deep voice is earnest and comforting, carrying the faint twang of his native Kernersville. The teenager on the other end of the line, Brian, is the sort of kid most predisposed to military recruiting. He has no plans for college and, nearly a year since dropping out of high school, he is still waiting to begin a factory job at Hanes Clothing. The Marines offers an alternative with better pay and benefits, personal development and opportunities for advancement and education. But to join the Marines, he must graduate from high school. For Brian, the opportunity may be too distant and the challenge too hard. Sergeant Long asks where he wants to be five years from now. It sounds like Brian wants to own his own business, but he does not plan on returning to high school or pursuing a GED. Sensing a losing argument, Sergeant Long makes a final pitch: “Well if you look at starting your own business, and you go back to high school, then you’ll be eligible for the Marines, and it’s a place where you can really learn leadership and management skills. “You know where my office is located? In the mall, right across from the Game Frog. Come by and see me some time.” Of the 13 Marine recruiting stations in North Carolina, Recruiting Sub-Station Winston-Salem sent the highest number of recruits last year to training camp on Parris Island, SC. That number was 120 — a record for the Winston-Salem office during a period of high recruiting nationwide. In 2007, the Marine Corps began a four-year plan to increase its ranks to 202,000, in response to a directive from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Typically gung-ho, the Marines are on schedule to accomplish the four-year plan in two years. They have already begun to slow recruitment efforts in 2009 in order not to exceed their goal. But the job of recruiters and their mission to recruit as many quality Marines as possible has not significantly changed, recruiters say. So far in 2009, RSS Winston-Salem, which recruits from Forsyth, Davie, Davidson, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties, has obtained 52 commitments. They come from high school seniors and high school graduates who have met with recruiters, passed initial physical tests and background checks and signed contracts to attend boot camp on a given date. From the day of their commitment, they are known as “poolees,” which refers to the waiting pool for boot camp. Poolees are expected to maintain weekly contact with their recruiters and encouraged to attend regular physical training, or PT, at the recruiting station. Poolees often act as recruits among their friends, and by referring at least two new recruits, a poolee can increase his initial rank to private first class. On the wall behind Sergeant Terry’s desk are two maps of the area, which are dotted with pins and flags. The first map, labeled “Assets,” shows high schools, community colleges and other targets for recruiting, each marked with flags colored for priority level. Sites friendly to recruiters are labeled as “priority one,” according to Sergeant Terry, and those which are not friendly to recruiters or do not allow recruiters, such as West Stokes High School, are labeled as priority two and three. The second map, labeled “Enlistment,” is a pincushion of red and black tacks, locating last year’s and this year’s recruits. The seven recruiters at the Winston- Salem station visit schools when allowed by a principal and speak to classes when allowed by a teacher. They also contact high school seniors using lists that are provided as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (parents can remove their child from the lists by contacting the school). Although their efforts cast a wide net, the recruiters are quick to identify individuals who are both qualified and interested — the proverbial “few.” “Each individual joins for different reasons,” Sergeant Terry says. “We look for commitment.” The recruiters do not delude anyone about to their likelihood of facing combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Sergeant Terry. “Not in this office do we guarantee they won’t have to deploy,” the sergeant says. “The day I compromise my integrity to get a recruit to enlist is the day I quit.” By noon there are several new faces at the recruiting station. An out-of-uniform Marine shows up with his girlfriend, a tall brunette in a pink Camp LeJeune T-shirt, who is interested in enlisting. A poolee, Stephon Watts,relaxes at a desk. “If I had money I’d take you all out to lunch,”Watts says. “I find that hard to believe,” Sergeant Long says, “youhaving money, that is.” A few young men come in and fill out forms ortalk quietly with recruiters. A woman enters, shakes a few hands andannounces, “I have family in the military.

A Marine recruiter talks to a group of “poolees” during a function at Hillside High School in Durham. (photo by Gus Lubin)

Thank you for whatyou’re doing.“ Meanwhile the phone calls continue. Each with his ownstyle and tone, the recruiters attempt to persuade their targets tojoin the Marines. Sergeant Long talks on the phone with Jose,another high school senior: “How do you think you’ll feel with all thatdebt coming out of college, with an entry-level job making 30-35thousand a year? Well do you always want to live with mom and dad?Until you pay off your loans? Well what happens if you meet a girl? Areyou going to bring her back to mom and dad? You cool with that?”

OnThursday, I join some poolees for PT. We meet Sergeant Long in therecruiting station at 5 p.m. The first poolee to arrive is JamesCooper, an 18-year-old from Glenn High School. Cooper, called Coop, isa small and stocky white guy with a military buzz cut and glasses. Sincejoining the delayed-entry program on June 25, 2008, he has come to PTat the station nearly every day. Coop will enter the Marines as aprivate first class because of his completion of an Eagle Scout, oralternately because of his twoyear membership in JROTC. He wasrecommended by the recruiting station for the presidential guard, anuncommon Military Occupational Specialty. For Coop, this was adisappointment. “I had my hopes up to see the Afghanistanadventure,” Coop says. Then walks in Kaya Rumley, a girl with big,blonde hair like Dolly Parton. She joined in February,following a disappointing first semester at East Carolina University.The idea to join came from her ex-boyfriend, a Marine, and his Marinefriends; and her enlistment came as a shock to her new boyfriend.Although she looks like a Southern belle, Rumley considers herself atomboy. “The girls going into the Marines will have a similarmindset to me,” Rumley says, regarding her entry into an institutionthat is 94 percent male. “I expect they will get along with me.” We arealso joined by Jeffrey Lyons, a skinny 15-year-old with long, musculararms; Willie Mills, an overweight high school junior; and JosephRichwood, a tall, lean black senior in a Hollister tank top. Before PTbegins, Lyons, Coop and Mills — who all have buzzed hair and look like“small, medium, large” — banter crudely, like most teenage boys. Theyjoke with Rumley about the butch girls found in the Marine Corp, andthen they joke about Arabs. Rumley sighs and moves to sit by herself.Mills wears a T-shirt that says “INFIDEL” on the front, translate intoArabic on the back. We take turns on the pull-up bar. Rumley meets thefemale requirement of holding herself above the bar for a certainlength of time. Mills also can only dangle briefly. Coop pullsan arduous eight. Richmond does an easy 10. Lyons surges up 15 times. Imax out at three. “How does it feel being beaten by a 15year-old?”Lyons teases. “How does it feel waiting a year and a half tojoin?” Coop counters. “Well think how good I’ll be in a year and ahalf.” “Well I’ll be in the Marine Infantry in a year and a half.”

OutsideHanes Mall at 8 a.m. on Saturday, 33 poolees stand in formation. It iscold and many wear only T-shirts. Coop, Rumley and Lyons are there. Sois Watts, who stands at the front corner and holds a red USMC flag.Sgt. James Horak explains several military procedures, such as thedifference between standing at attention and at ease. Then they breakformation and divide into two vans and two cars. We drive 90 minuteseast to the statewide poolee function at Hillside High School inDurham. Poolee functions are monthly events designed to build communityamong the poolees and to prepare recruits for boot camp. Today’sfunction is the biggest of the year, featuring physical competitionbetween the 13 recruiting stations and a visit by drill instructorsfrom Parris Island. RSS Winston-Salem won first place at last year’sevent, but they did so with a much larger team of 63 poolees. “Winningis the only option today,” Watts leans forward and whispers to the vandriver, Sgt. Rios. Watts holds the furled flag beside him. The blackMount Tabor High School senior expects to enter the Marines with an MOSin aviation electronics. Like Coop, he is disappointed not to be in theinfantry. RSS Winston-Salem is the last to arrive at HillsideHigh School. The poolees line up and jog to the football field, wherethey complete a square formation with nearly 400 other poolees. After afew minutes, two drill instructors walk to the center of the field. Oneis a brawny man in camouflage pants and a yellow DI T-shirt; the otheris an athletic woman in a maroon shirt. The man calls out pool groupsone-by-one: “Jacksonville, you going to win today?” “YESSIR!” While thedrill instructors lead a series of high-energy warm-ups, I talk withMajor Jeffery Morgan, the senior recruitment officer in North Carolina.The major, perhaps the only officer at Hillside High School, looksabout 10 years older than most of the recruiters (and 20 years olderthan most of the recruits). He is one of the only Marines dressed infull camouflage. “We have three missions,” Major Morgan saysto me, as he will later repeat to an audience of poolees, “makeMarines; win battles; and return better citizens to society.” MajorMorgan speaks proudly about all aspects of Marines recruiting. In thepast few years, since he took over the North Carolina program in 2006,the Marines have met and exceeded recruiting goals. They haveproduced a representative army, which recently fell within onepercentage point of national ethnic demographics — a wonder, he says,which occurred without the use of quotas. The Marines have had toraise, not lower, their standards, he says. “You hear good storiesabout troubled kids who get turned around in the Marines. But that’snot who we’re looking for. We want the football captain. We want thehigh school valedictorian,” Major Morgan says. Recruiters set up 13freestanding pullup bars and select 10 contestants from each station. Asingle girl leads off for every team. Most of them are, in fact, notbutch: Beside Rumley is a pretty blonde from Greensboro, a petitebrunette from Raleigh and a tiny black girl who speaks with a Caribbean accent. Holding herself up on the bar, Rumley outlastsnine girls, before dropping down. The tiny black girl wins. NineWinston-Salem poolees do pullups after Rumley. Lyons is berated by thefemale drill instructor for swinging his body too much, and then,despite her subsequent screams of encouragement, he fizzles out aftereight. Watts fights to 19. He struggles to get 20, spreading his armswide and pulling his legs up horizontal, but cannot do it. WilbertBrown, a muscular high school graduate with a short mohawk, powersthrough 21 dips. “I guess I do a lot better at the recruiting stationthan I do here,” Lyons says, sitting glumly on the ground.

Agroup of “poolees” stands at attention during a Marine recruiting eventat Hillside High School in Durham. (photo by Gus Lubin)

Tabitha Jordan, thesecond girl from RSS Winston-Salem, draws on a poolee’s back with ablade of grass. The day is hot and the sun is blazing. Several hourspass, filled with competition, cheering, sitting and daydreaming.

Iwalk with Sergeant Horak to the Ammo Can Lift. He is a short andvigorous Marine with a shaved head. The sergeant wears a medal forperformance in combat, even though his MOS is cooking, and he looksforward to finishing his term as a recruiter. “Going frombeing with all the time, where if you want to get something done youcan dictate and it gets done — going from that to high school kids —you have to be more delicate,” Sergeant Horak says. The final competition is tug of war. As teams step upalphabetically, RSS Winston-Salem waits. Because of the odd number ofteams, they wait even longer.

ABOVE:Master Sgt. Jared Terry said the day he compromises his integrity to arecruit to enlist would be the day he quits the Marine Corps. RIGHT:Sgt. Freddie Jones makes calls to area high school seniors as part ofhis recruiting duties. (photos by Gus Lubin)

“They saving the bestfor last?” Watts quips. “They gonna be tired by the time we get tothem.” Brown says. “Hold it right on your hip; and then — backbone!”Sergeant Horack demonstrates to a few poolees. Our turn comesand 10 poolees step up. They face away from the rope and drop to pushupposition. At the whistle, they turn around and grab the rope and pull.The other team is stronger. Brown, at the front of the line, strainshis biceps and pulls the rope past him; but really he is just movingforward, until he is almost at the center flag. The whistle blows andthey lose. The team looks downcast and stunned. “What team wasthat? Aberdale?” one of them asks. “We didn’t go down like pussies,that’s for sure,” a poolee says. RSS Winston-Salem gets another roundat the rope. They are about to start when the recruiters notice thatsomeone is missing. “Shit!” Coop cries, running forward. He seemsdazed. When the whistle blows, Coop’s glasses slip and he fumbles atthe rope. But the team wins anyway. They get one more round atthe rope and lose. At the awards ceremony, RSS Winston-Salem wins firstplace for the crunches relay and nothing else. Third place overall goesto Kannapolis; second place goes to Raleigh; and the first place trophygoes to Hickory. The Winston-Salem team is disappointed, butthey cheer up when it’s time to go home. After all, the team was formedonly recently, and it will soon dissolve into the total Marine Corps.And they are tired. The poolee function concludes with anaddress by Major Morgan. The major congratulates the poolees and givesthem some general advice, including to stay hydrated and to keep inclose contact with their recruiters.

“Finally, nothing good happens after midnight,” Major Morgan declares. “We don’t promise you much, but I’ll promise you one thing. You’re going to boot camp.”

RSS Winston-Salem competes in a tug-of-war contest against a team from another recruiting station. (photo by Gus Lubin)