Army recruiter telling HNHS students about his career choice

Army Recruiter Staff Sgt. Christopher Mercer (left) goes over last-minute details with Huntington North High School senior Elizabeth Mitchell, in the high school’s commons area on Wednesday, Nov. 4, prior to her scheduled enlistment on Nov. 6. Mitchell plans to specialize in computers and intelligence after she completes basic training.
Army Recruiter Staff Sgt. Christopher Mercer (left) goes over last-minute details with Huntington North High School senior Elizabeth Mitchell, in the high school’s commons area on Wednesday, Nov. 4, prior to her scheduled enlistment on Nov. 6. Mitchell plans to specialize in computers and intelligence after she completes basic training. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally publislhed Nov. 9, 2015.

When Christopher Mercer was 18, coming of age in a small town near Bloomington, the Army seemed like a good alternative when he didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated from high school.

“I didn’t want to go to college and not know what I was going to go for, and then be in my second and third year and not necessarily know what I wanted to do,” he says. “Two years into the Army I was like, ‘I love this!’ and ended up re-enlisting for it.”

Ten years later, Mercer, who initially went into the airborne artillery, is now recruiting others to join and discover the benefits of the military life.

One of his favorite places to meet prospective soldiers is at Huntington North High School. He says students there have been largely welcoming toward him, joking with him and listening to what he has to say, as evidenced by the steady numbers of recruits.

“Certain areas are more pro-military. Certain areas are more pro-specific branches of the military,” Mercer says. “Huntington North is actually one of our more beneficial schools. It’s larger. A good amount of kids decide they want to join the military. Right now you’re looking at probably 10 to 12 kids that are actively trying to go into the military.”

In addition, men and women who have already graduated from high school will often contact recruiters when they get out into the world and stack up their options.

“It was a month ago, I walked into Walmart to buy something after being here (at HNHS) at lunch, and ran into one of the kids that graduated just last year,” Mercer recalls. “He said, ‘I’m ready to join the Army.’ … I ran into him at the Walmart and bam — he was in the Army a week later.”

For students who aren’t headed to college, technical training or the workforce, the benefits of joining the military right out of high school are myriad, Mercer says. The biggest draw is the education benefit. Joining the Army Reserves, which involves a commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, will help pay for their college. Signing up for active duty guarantees a job after high school and job stability, another attractive benefit.

“Active duty is one of the only jobs that a kid straight out of high school could actually sustain themselves with, because we pay for housing, we pay for food, we pay for their health insurance, 30 days of paid vacation a year,” Mercer says. “While they’re in they get $4,000 a year for tuition assistance to go to college while they’re in; and then once they get out they get a full bachelor’s degree paid for.”

Mercer says it gets better. The Army pays for what he calls “BAH” — basic allowance for housing, which amounts to between $950 and $1,000 per month for housing and utilities.

In addition, those who put in 20 years of service in the military can retire and get retirement benefits as early as age 38. Many veterans embark on second careers, receiving preferential hiring on choice positions such as the United States Postal Service. With 10 years of service, Mercer, 28, is halfway to retirement.

Recruits can sign up for a six-year commitment in the reserves, and three to five years of active duty. But with an all-volunteer military force, the Army isn’t taking just anyone. They want “the best and the brightest,” Mercer says. A high school diploma is a must — sometimes a high school equivalency (GED) will also be accepted. But recruits must also be medically fit and have few to no law violations on the books.

Those interested in joining must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) — a test to determine intelligence and skills levels. Those who have the aptitude may choose the field they want to go into, if the position is open, Mercer says.

Elizabeth Mitchell, a senior who will graduate from HNHS next spring, took the test and scored high enough to be offered 35 different jobs from which to choose. Mitchell, who has made a commitment to the Army, wants to become a geospatial engineer, working with 3-D mapping. She says she is joining the military out of a sense of what she calls “obligation.”

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she says. “My father was in the Navy and I have a lot of family history in the military. But, mostly I feel an obligation to not only serve my country but carry on that legacy.”

Mitchell also qualified for a top-secret security clearance, passing background checks. She will then go through MEPS — the Military Entrance Program — which will conduct medical screenings and other pre-entry procedures.

Mitchell says one thing that helped her greatly was the kinds of classes she chose to take in high school. She advises students who are eyeing military service to start planning their classes early.

“I started taking classes that I figured would push me further,” she explains. “For instance, what I’m going into is intelligence and computers, so I have to know basic computer stuff, I have to know how to work programs and just know how to speak well.

“One of the classes I’ve taken is digital design and for a geospatial engineer, that’s what you’re doing. You’re using your computer, you’re making maps, three-dimensional. And I’m already up to trig now, in my math classes … If I hadn’t have taken those classes I wouldn’t have known the stuff that I did.”

She is not only excited about being a part of the Army for the next three years, but is also looking forward to meeting and making new friends. She adds that if all goes well, she’ll likely re-enlist or take some college classes after her enlistment is over.

She advises students who are considering a career in the military to do the research and know what they’re getting into.

“If you don’t know what’s going on and don’t know the basics, it’s going to be harder for you to not only get in, it’s going to make the process longer,” she says.

For anyone who is interested in the military, Mercer recommends trying out the Army’s Future Soldier Program. It takes place every Wednesday in Fort Wayne at the YMCA Central Branch, 1020 Barr St., and also in Marion at the U.S. Army Recruiting Office, located at 935 N. Baldwin Ave. #5.

“We do a little bit of military training and classes, map reading, land navigation, drill and ceremony — stuff like that. We also do physical exercises,” Mercer says. “It’s an after-school type of a deal, that anybody can come there. It’s free to come and do it, and you don’t have to say, ‘Hey, I want to join the Army’ for it. You can just do it to see where you’re at. There’s zero commitment.”

Representatives of every branch of the military — including the National Guard — come to Huntington North to talk to and recruit students. HCCSC Superintendent Randy Harris says joining the military gives young men and women another option for direction after they graduate.

“In some cases it becomes a blend between going to college and going directly to work,” Harris says. “By going into the military there are educational benefits to that as well as the work benefits. It’s a good route for some of those kids.”

Mercer invites questions about enlisting into military service. He can be reached at 766-9733.