Oct. 28, 2004 This weekend soldiers will be rolling their Hummers through the streets of St. Croix, honking their horns and calling people out to learn more about careers in the military.
The Virgin Islands Army National Guard is taking its recruiting efforts a littler further than usual, going door to door in the Grove Place community Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and setting up a stationary heavy equipment display. Virgin Island residents can expect to see citizen soldiers in their communities about once a month from now on, as the push to join the military becomes stronger.
"Over the years patriotism has changed," Karen Williams, Guard marketing specialist, said. "In the past there was a strong sense of pride in being part of the community. Back then people also joined for benefits. Young people today dont have the urge to go out and fight for something. Were tying to show that military service can be a benefit to them."
In the past the Guard used more subtle methods of self-promotion, such as attending career fairs, shopping centers and "piggy backing" with other community groups when they held activities. But now, according to Williams, there's a greater need to get the benefits of the Guard out to the people.
"Because of the war, many individuals are saying 'no, not me.' We have young people who want to go, but their mothers are saying, 'not my son.' There's a fear," she said. "But we want to let them know the benefits are there. Were all about building communities and thats the focus."
The counselors have a strong presence in local high schools: one even has an office at Central High School on St. Croix.
A receptionist at Central High said Friday the National Guard has an office there, adjoining the guidance counselors office. The office does not have its own phone line, she said, but it does have a separate door and lock on it. The receptionist said no one was in the office at the time the call was placed, but someone from the National Guard is usually there.
The Guard also administers the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery at the high schools. It's a standardized, eight-part test, which measures a student's skills in math, science, technology and life experiences.
"It's an excellent tool for students if they have no idea what field they want to go into. They can find out what they may be good at," Sgt. First Class Wanda Williams said. "The public schools on St. Croix are making it mandatory for seniors to take it. It gives students an option for Plan B if they don't get into college. It qualifies you for the military."
Recruiters face the challenge of getting students to take the test seriously. In October, the test was administered at three high schools in the Virgin Islands; Ivanna Eudora Kean on St. Thomas, St. Croix Educational Complex, and Central High School on St. Croix. A review showed only a 20 percent success rate. The high schools selected for testing in November are Saints Peter and Paul and Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas and Freewill Baptist on St. Croix.
A student and parent guide for the test is available, which provides a message to parents along with sample test questions, and outlines how to prepare for the test and interpret the test results.
"Whether you want to go to the military or not, the Career Exploration Program is an invaluable tool for career planning. I'm urging parents to be proactive and see the scores. Urge your child to take it as early as possible," Karen Williams said.
Williams pointed out the Guard offers tuition assistance for college and vocational schools, and said many members have acquired advanced degrees and enhanced their civilian careers through their service.
"We're an organization that has opportunities for people between ages 17 and 35," Wanda Williams said. "The skills you gain here will help you for your life. It's getting marketable skills so you can be a productive citizen, help your country and your island."
To find out more about the Career Exploration Program or the test, call 773-6438 on St. Croix or 774-5919 on St. Thomas.
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