Yo Soy el Army

Uncle Sam wants you--especially if you're Latino

The afternoon is slipping by, and Salas is going through piles of brochures, bracelets and bumper stickers. A fair-skinned man with piercing blue eyes walks up and asks Salas in Argentine-accented Spanish whether he speaks the language. When the soldier nods, the man launches into a lecture on the perils of warfare. "The Army isn't good for people," he says, explaining that he fought for Argentina in the Falklands War with Britain. "I lost a lot of friends—I saw people lose arms, legs..." Salas replies that the level of risk depends on which jobs soldiers choose, that some positions don't involve much combat. The man isn't convinced. "The Army shouldn't exist in any country," he says, jabbing his finger in the air. Salas shakes his head and shrugs.


Corporal Leal works to prepare recruits and their parents for the potential hardships of Army life. Asked how he calms mothers' fears, he says, "There's no calming, there's just rationalization. You have to rationalize—'I understand this is your only child, but what do you want for your child?' Many of these families can't afford to send their kids to college." Most parents worry that their kids will go to Iraq, and he tells them there's a good chance they'll get sent there. "The key thing is honesty," he says. Some recruiters are glib about the possibility of death, always glossing over it. Not Leal. "I lost a lot of friends in Iraq, but it comes with the territory," he says. "When you put on the uniform, it comes with a disclaimer." Once, his recruiting mentor got a call from a mother whose son had been killed in action. She told him the date of the funeral and thanked him for giving her son the chance to serve. "I hope if it ever happens, I get a response like that," Leal says.

This seasoned familiarity with risk and its consequences is something teenage recruits simply don't have, no matter how much they're prepared for sacrifice. Back at the Oak Cliff recruiting station next to a cabinet stenciled with the words "Duty, Honor, and Country," Garcia and Borjas sit with a few other kids in running pants and hoodies. They're getting ready to go home for the night and wake up for school the next morning. As the days pass and spring draws closer, talk in the halls turns to people's plans after graduation. And with the news focused almost entirely on Iraq—the bombings, the body count, the spiraling sectarian violence—the boys' peers sometimes question their decision to enlist. Garcia's girlfriend tells him that other kids ask her why he joined, what she'll do if he's sent to Iraq. The new soldiers have already picked up the military habit of dismissing the grim news coming out of Baghdad as the media's obsession with reporting only negative developments. "They only talk about the bad stuff," they say.

Staff Sergeant Antonio Salas, a 35-year-old recruiter from an immigrant family in McAllen, Texas, says he joined the Army at 18 when he saw his peers getting drawn into gangs and drugs.
Brian Harkin
Staff Sergeant Antonio Salas, a 35-year-old recruiter from an immigrant family in McAllen, Texas, says he joined the Army at 18 when he saw his peers getting drawn into gangs and drugs.
Ricardo Garcia, 18, is a senior at W.H. Adamson High School and is set to ship out in June. He says joining the Army was a way "to know you're not wasting your life."
Brian Harkin
Ricardo Garcia, 18, is a senior at W.H. Adamson High School and is set to ship out in June. He says joining the Army was a way "to know you're not wasting your life."

One recruit, a skinny kid named Juan Puente, has an older brother who did a tour in Iraq and claims he's "ready to go back right now." Juan says friends have criticized his choice to follow in his brother's footsteps. "Everyone says, 'You're gonna go to Iraq and die,'" he says. "But you could step outside and get killed—it could happen any time."

Garcia nods. "Yeah, just 'cause you go to Iraq doesn't mean you're gonna die—you just do what you gotta do and hopefully you come out of it with all your limbs."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Dallas Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...