Re­cruits’ rea­sons for en­list­ing evolve as Afghan war grinds on

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Alex Hor­ton The Wash­ing­ton Post

Those who en­list in the Marines now do so for rea­sons apart from the 9/11 at­tacks.

A day af­ter hi­jacked planes de­stroyed the World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers, tore into the Pen­tagon and cratered a Penn­syl­va­nia field, thou­sands of ba­bies were born in the United States.

They emerged from the womb on Sept. 12, 2001, as hos­pi­tal tele­vi­sions were tuned to smol­der­ing rub­ble, and they grew along­side the sub­se­quent war against al-Qaida and the Tal­iban.

Wed­nes­day marked a new era for the war in Afghanistan and the young peo­ple who make up the bulk of en­lis­tees. It was the first day some­one born af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks can en­list, at age 17, and be­gin a path to serve in the seem­ingly end­less war launched in re­sponse to those at­tacks.

Troops were once par­tially mo­ti­vated to en­list be­cause of the at­tacks; now, 17 years later, the un­fin­ished war grows fur­ther from events that cre­ated it.

The di­vid­ing line be­tween troops who en­listed be­fore and af­ter Sept. 11 was ini­tially stark, veter­ans have said.

Bran­don Fried­man was com­mis­sioned in the peace­time Army of 2000, and took over an in­fantry pla­toon five days af­ter the at­tacks.

He later led them in Afghanistan in 2002. Those men had all en­listed be­fore the at­tacks, he said, and had joined for a num­ber of rea­sons — to test their met­tle, earn col­lege ben­e­fits or maybe to es­cape dim prospects at home.

But the re­place­ments he re­ceived by 2003, who had all en­listed in the wake of Sept. 11, said they joined for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

“It was a gal­va­niz­ing time,” he said.

About 5.5 mil­lion troops have served since Sept. 11, and nearly 7,000 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan com­bined.

Kayla Wil­liams, a for­mer Army lin­guist, was in Ara­bic class dur­ing the at­tacks. Like Fried­man, she later met re­cruits newly in­spired to fight. In re­cent years, how­ever, en­lis­tees are less likely to say Sept. 11 played a role in their de­ci­sion to join the mil­i­tary, said Wil­liams, now di­rec­tor of the mil­i­tary, veter­ans and so­ci­ety pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, a Wash­ing­ton think tank.

Pen­tagon data show an 8 per­cent surge in the propen­sity for young men to en­list right af­ter the at­tacks, con­tin­u­ing through 2005.

Now, re­cruits re­port mo­ti­va­tions that mir­ror those of their pre-9/11 fore­bears; they join to pur­sue ad­ven­ture, se­cure ben­e­fits or are drawn to as­pects of honor, Wil­liams said.

Jon Gil­lis was in fifth grade on Sept. 11, and his friends had par­ents in the Pen­tagon dur­ing the at­tacks. But that was not a spe­cific driver, he said.

Gil­lis en­listed as a col­lege grad­u­ate in 2013 af­ter be­com­ing close with a Ma­rine vet­eran.

He en­tered a Corps in tran­si­tion, where Marines hoped for com­bat ro­ta­tions and were dis­mayed by dwin­dling chances to fight in Afghanistan, as their lead­ers had. Gil­lis de­ployed to Ro­ma­nia in­stead.

He left ac­tive duty last year as 18-year-olds ar­rived at his unit. Bar­racks talk fo­cused on the gen­er­a­tional gaps, he said, with Sept. 11 as the ref­er­ence point. “They know it hap­pened, but there is no mem­ory at­tached to it,” Gil­lis said of the younger Marines.

JOE RAE­DLE/GETTY 2009

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