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New Army Recruit Shares Thoughts on War, Enlisting

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking their toll on U.S. Armed Forces. March will mark four years since the war in Iraq began and the death toll among U.S. troops has just reached the 3,000 mark

New Army Recruit Shares Thoughts on War, Enlisting

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking their toll on U.S. Armed Forces. March will mark four years since the war in Iraq began and the death toll among U.S. troops has just reached the 3,000 mark. The Army has suffered the most causalities. And there is talk now about expanding the U.S. military. Reporter Joanne Faryon met one of the Army's newest recruits the other day in a crowded airport. He was on his way home after several weeks of boot camp.

His name is Aaron. I didn’t ask his last name. I didn’t think it fair because he didn’t realize I was a reporter when he plopped himself next to me at the Chicago airport. We were both waiting to catch our flights home. I had spent a few days away visiting family. He had just come from boot camp.

Aaron is 21 years old. He looked like any kid, baggy jeans, baggy sweatshirt, a cap covering his shaved head. Maybe the shaved head was the only sign he wasn’t a civilian.

Aaron told me he was happy to be on his way home to see his two kids. He looked too young to have kids, let alone a wife. He was from Oshkosh Wisconsin. For some reason, Aaron told me his life story, his reason for joining the army and how he felt about going to war.

Maybe I reminded him of his mother, or maybe I was just a stranger willing to listen. Aaron got in trouble as a teenager for the usual things, wrong crowd, too many drugs. But he met a girl and tried to straighten himself out. Before joining the army, he cleared about $800 a month waiting tables at an Italian restaurant in his hometown. But it wasn’t enough money to pay his rent or feed his family. So he joined the army.

With his housing allowance and special pay for being away from home, he made more than $1,800 a month now. Something he was clearly proud of.

He said he learned three things during his 18 weeks in the army. How to repair a fuel line, how to look for an IED, or improvised explosive device and how to “kill a guy.” Those were Aaron’s words and when I questioned him on the third lesson of boot camp, he explained there were certain holds or moves that could kill someone instantly. It looked as though Aaron doubted his proficiency at this found skill as much as I did.

Do you feel ready to go to war, I asked. Well, not really, he said. He thought basic training would be harder. He told me he could only do 42 pushups, he thought he should have to do more. He can run two miles in under 16 minutes, he thought he should be faster.There was a lot of fooling around at boot camp, Aaron said. He thought it would be stricter.

Did they talk about why they were at war? No Aaron said, he was taught how to fix a fuel line, that was his job.

Was he scared to go to war? It was the only question Aaron didn’t answer directly. He said he’d rather go to Afghanistan than Iraq because things were not quite so bad there. He looked scared. I suspect that’s part of the reason he chose a stranger to tell his story.

Aaron will be posted in Texas after his Christmas leave. He was told his company won’t be sent anywhere until next November. I tried to give him a little false hope for the holidays, “maybe it will all be over by then,” I said. It was even less believable than Aaron’s claim he could kill a guy.

I felt bad leaving him at the gate alone. He’d left his family with the promise of returning a proud soldier. To a stranger, he could remain a scared kid just a little longer.

Later, as I jotted down notes about my conversation with Aaron, I wondered how many recruits had enlisted for a steady paycheck and found themselves in the middle of a battlefield able to do just 42 pushups and repair a fuel line. It hardly seemed like enough to fight a war. For KPBS, I’m Joanne Faryon