The last afternoon of Jordan Nelson’s last day of spring break was spent walking the circuit inside Sandburg Mall. Treading that track is nothing new for any 14-year-old eighth-grader from Altona. But Nelson learned something she never knew as she sat at a table in center court Monday with her mother and grandmother.
The last afternoon of Jordan Nelson’s last day of spring break was spent walking the circuit inside Sandburg Mall.
Treading that track is nothing new for any 14-year-old eighth-grader from Altona.
But Nelson learned something she never knew as she sat at a table in center court Monday with her mother and grandmother.
“The whole thing about Iraq is that we have to get out,” Karen Nelson said. “I was a peace marcher once -- a long time ago. I’ve always respected our troops, but this ...”
Jordan cut her off.
“I didn’t know you were a peace marcher,” she said. “Huh, you learn something new every day.”
The war in Iraq wasn’t far from anyone’s mind -- young or old, military or non-military -- Monday afternoon. The United States is entering its sixth year in the conflict. So far, 4,000 American service members have been killed in an effort that has left many Americans divided over current policies and strategies.
Shirley Peterson, Jordan’s grandmother, said her family is no stranger to the military or supporting its members.
“My first husband served in the Army and my second husband was in the Navy,” she said. “Jordan has a cousin in the Navy right now.”
Jessica Tucker, a 28-year-old Oneida native, is a nurse with the Navy and has completed two tours in the Persian Gulf.
“Jessica always wanted to be a nurse and she always contemplated the armed forces,” Karen said. “Jordan’s goals are a little different.”
Karen and Shirley said Jessica Tucker’s service made them “nervous wrecks,” and if Jordan ever served it would be equally “nerve-wracking.”
Jordan explained she planned a career as a medical scientist. And even though money for college looms as an issue, she said she didn’t think joining the military as a means of paying for her education would have to be an option.
“I have my path in mind,” Jordan said.
Others don’t. The opportunity to get an education -- or simply a chance for job security -- is a reality offered by the armed forces. And there are financial enticements.
Most people who enlist in the active Army can earn up to $40,000 for an enlistment of four or more years and up to $65,000 to repay qualifying student loans. For those who want to pursue an education while serving, the Army offers up to $4,500 a year after enlistment.
Those facts were all available Monday at the Armed Forces Career Center in Seminary Village from Staff Sgt. Cian Bouchard and Sgt. Ronald R. Buxton II. They visit two high schools a week telling students about the opportunities the Army offers.
“There is not a typical reason anyone joins the Army,” Bouchard said. “A lot of it depends on where someone wants to go in life.”
Bouchard said in Galesburg and the surrounding area the desire to pay for college has been eclipsed by the simple need to find a job.
“One common thing we hear is that the job market isn’t so great,” Bouchard said. “The other desire to serve the country, to do something different. Only one in 172 people have served in the armed forces. It takes a special person to serve.”
Bouchard readily admitted the current conflict creates anxiety.
“It’s a concern,” he said. “Every parent is concerned with the war. We explain the risks. But what we explain is the training their son or daughter will receive to lower those risks.”
For some, the current war sends a message that has nothing to do with risk of injury or death.
Ricky and Bryon Huls traveled from Mendota to visit cousins in Oneida and ended up in the mall Monday. The brothers said they would never consider enlisting in the armed services. They based their decision on politics.
“I really don’t like our government right now,” 18-year-old Ricky said. “They put us in a war for reasons that aren’t clear and they put us in debt we may never be able to get out of.”
Ricky said he wants to go to college, but doesn’t have many options.
“If we had a different president, maybe a different outlook, I might consider serving to get money for college,” he said. “But I think our government lied to us. I think they want us to be scared about terrorists.”
Seventeen-year-old Bryon agreed.
“I think the government is just using people like me to fight this war,” he said. “People like me need an education, or a job. This government uses that need to get people to fight.”
Far from Sandburg Mall, President George W. Bush spent part of Monday in a State Department briefing on the progress in Iraq. He pledged to ensure “an outcome that will merit the sacrifice” of those who have died in the war.
In the Armed Forces Career Center, Staff Sgt. Bouchard said he has never signed a recruit who hasn’t returned from Iraq.
“I don’t know how I’ll feel when that happens,” he said.
Tom Loewy can be reached at email@example.com.