By Simone Isaac
Tuition, sign-up bonuses and travel opportunities await those who join the military, but not everyone is suited for it said Welby Alcantara, John Jay’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator.
Alcantara, a Marine veteran, said the reasons vary as to why people join.”It is important to know one’s reason for joining the military.”
E4 specialist, Claudine Solomon, currently stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, said she joined the Army to provide for her family in a tough economy but does not plan to renew her contract.
“I was raised in Bed-Stuy,” said Latoya Clarke, 29.
Clarke joined the Army to show that good things can come from Bed-Stuy. After serving eight years on active duty, she is now a reservist recently deployed to Afghanistan.
Others join the Army so it can help them go to college.
32-year-old veteran Jason Spencer, a Jamaican immigrant, joined the National Guard because he wanted his college tuition paid. Horrified by post 9/11 rescue operations, he joined the US Army and served eight years receiving his citizenship in the process.
“I had feelings of patriotism after immigration,” said Yevgeny Gershman. A John Jay alum and Russian immigrant, Gershman enlisted with the National Guard before becoming an Army reservist.
Joseph Moore, a senior studying Security Management at John Jay, said that he joined the National Guard to protect his country post 9/11 because he, too, felt a sense of patriotism.
Adam Baumel, a sophomore and Political Science major also at John Jay, joined the U.S. Navy impulsively: “I wanted money for college, to see the world and to force me to grow up faster than I was in college,” he said.
Another benefit is traveling, a sentiment expressed by Moore and Alcantara. Spencer has been to Hawaii and Iraq.
Solomon said that salary is guaranteed twice a month despite sick leave absences.
“The basic salary sucks,” said Moore, “but the perks add up.” Benefits such as a monthly living stipend and free medical care add up to a better take-home salary.
A financial incentive, also known as a sign-up bonus, may be offered to join the military depending on the need of the service and the recruit’s specialty, Alcantara and Gershman explained.
Low-interest-rate housing loans are available to military personnel, whether active, reservist or veteran. The Montgomery GI bill, established in 1944, provides tuition for college and graduate school for those who enlist. Spencer is now in college and Gershman has his Masters in Criminal Justice. Clarke can use her benefits to pay for her son’s college education or that of another family member.
Members indicated that one never leaves the service the same way he or she entered. Recruits learn discipline, loyalty, respect, sense of duty, courage, integrity, honor, and the determination to rise to leadership. Gershman attested that he lost his fear of public speaking.
Drawbacks to enlisting in the military can include emotional stresses from selfless service, for example, fear of death while deployed during wartime and separation from family for long periods of time. Baumel said that he missed both of his grandparents’ funerals and his best friend’s wedding due to military missions. Gershman said that one’s body belongs to the service. Vaccinations, including trial vaccines, are not optional.
Spencer, Clarke and Solomon said that they missed their children’s developing stages. These estranged relationships can remain for many years because sometimes the familial bonds are not repaired even after retirement.
While deployed, soldiers must develop a mental barrier to distance themselves from thoughts and memories of loved ones to keep themselves sharp on the battlefield.
The possibility for alcoholism, drug use, memory loss and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, are among other long term and potentially permanent effects of serving in the military. “My drinking increased when I returned, to numb the pain and cope with the insanity of war,” said Spencer.
However, these effects are dependent on several factors. One of which is the branch of the military one served in, for example, the Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Marine, National Guard, etc. Other factors include deployment, and whether the country is at war. Even the rank and specialty one has when enlisting is another factor- a surgeon will not be as easily exposed to combat action as a footman will.
Clarke and Spencer said civilians do not understand veterans, and readjusting to civilian life can be difficult. People seem to be so casual and care-free and don’t seem to understand the fragility of life. Spencer said, “Civilians don’t appreciate what they have because they have never walked in the shoes of military personnel or a veteran.”
All interviewees agree that one needs to be mentally and physically prepared, seize the opportunity if possible, prepare to be tested, remember that one’s body belongs to the service, and financial opportunities vary and can be generational.
Military personnel understand the emotional turmoil and trauma each may face. They support each other in various ways. Spencer primarily hires veterans in his restaurant.
Five of the seven interviewed emphatically said if they could go back in time, they would serve in the military. Moreover, they each gave words of advice.
“Go for it,” said Spencer. “Do as much as you can because you don’t know when you can check out.”
Gershman said to “consider motivation” and determine your preparedness to make the ultimate sacrifice of your life.
Baumel said to do research and carefully analyze what recruiters say.
Moore said to ask about experiences in the field, regardless of active duty, reservist or veteran. He said, “It is a lifestyle, it’s not a 9-5.”