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Third in a three-part series
The unemployment rate is high, greater than 9 percent. The military is in the midst of a record streak of recruiting success.
It's not a coincidence. A weak economy is good for the military.
'Sorry, We're Not Hiring'
About a year ago, Justin Bock was about to join the Navy. He just didn't know it.
Justin and his wife, Ashley, both had solid jobs. So they bought a house in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Then everything changed. Before they could even move in, Ashley was laid off. Three months later, it was Justin's turn.
"I was called in and more or less given the pink slip," Justin recalls. "So I go home, and I looked at my wife, and I said, 'Well, what do you want to do?' "
The Bocks suddenly found themselves unemployed, with a mortgage to pay and a young daughter with a heart condition. Like so many people searching for work in this tough job market, Justin sent out dozens of applications and tried to call in favors.
"And everybody kept sending back the same thing. 'Sorry, we're not hiring,' " Justin says. "Or [they said], you're either overqualified or underqualified."
Ashley adds, "Yeah, he couldn't even get a job as a cashier at Best Buy."
A Backup Plan
But Justin had a backup plan: the Navy. When he was in high school he had planned to enlist, but life got in the way. Now he was 30 years old, and that thing he had wanted to do so long ago started to make sense.
A recession really does make recruiting less challenging than it otherwise would be.Dr. Curtis Gilroy, Department of Defense
"I guess you could say it was divine intervention," Justin says. "The good lord saw fit that I not find another job, and the opportunity presented itself. And I stopped by the recruiting office and talked to the recruiter. I already knew what I wanted to do."
On a busy afternoon at a recruiting office in Hagerstown, Md., Petty Officer Cory Flament answers a call from a potential recruit. This is the same office where Justin filled out that paperwork just a few months ago.
"Once [Justin] lost that job, you know, he's like, 'Wow, well, maybe I should go check the Navy out again,' " Flament says.
Recruiting Gets A Boost
Flament started as a recruiter late in 2008, just as the full force of the recession was hitting. It turns out a bad job market in the civilian world is good news for recruiters like Flement.
"I think people are more open to the idea of serving their country," he says.
Flament's not the only one noticing the trend. Whenever there's a recession, recruiting gets a boost.
"A recession really does make recruiting less challenging than it otherwise would be," says Dr. Curtis Gilroy, who oversees active duty military recruiting nationwide. "We're in our third year in which all active duty services have achieved their numerical recruiting goals and either met or exceeded their recruit quality benchmarks as well."
So the military gains not just more recruits, but better ones. Test scores are up along with the number of recruits who graduated high school. Today the military is letting in fewer recruits with waivers for minor criminal histories or past drug use.
For all services, the quality of recruits is the highest it's been in nearly two decades. This, even as the nation is at war — and the risks of military service are as clear as ever.
That means all of the services are able to be more selective.
"That causes us to be able to choose the best of the best ... to come into the Navy, which then creates a stronger, stable, qualified, mature force," says Master Chief Jimmy Holt, the national chief recruiter for the Navy.
Now, Considering A Career
Justin is one of those high-quality recruits. He's currently training with the Navy in San Antonio.
Ashley says when she met her husband he was working two jobs, and not always the most fun guy to be around. Joining the Navy has changed all that.
"Through the last several weeks that he's been here in San Antonio, he has just regained a lot of confidence and it's just glowing from him," says Ashley, with pride in her voice.
Justin is training to become a hospital corpsman, a medical job. It's something he never imagined himself doing, and yet now makes all the sense in the world, especially in light of his daughter's heart condition.
He thinks it could lead to a good career in the military, even after the civilian job market improves.
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