A computer screensaver behind Staff Sergeant Steven Mollnhauer depicts an endless line of animated U.S. Army paratroopers jumping rhythmically from a transport plane and descending onto unseen terrain.
Slogans or no, Mollnhauer’s army is larger than one.
For the two and a half years he has been at this Army recruitment station in Arlington Plaza on State Street, Mollnhauer said the office is characteristically empty, despite a visitor increase since the beginning of the current war in Iraq.
“The Army is doing really well,” Mollnhauer said. “Basically recruitment missions are based upon the needs of the Army nationally, and are broken down like a big pie into the smaller recruiting stations.”
Mollnhauer said that since October 2002, his piece of Santa Barbara recruitment area pie, which spans from Carpinteria to Gaviota, has enlisted 18 new active duty soldiers of its recruitment mission goal of 24. Twelve of those future soldiers are current UCSB students or alumni, and 5 are from Santa Barbara City College.
Mollnhauer said that current U.S. military action in Iraq has not stopped people wanting to enlist, and according to local and national statistics, the Army has generally been successful in meeting its recent mission recruiting goals.
Mark Wonders, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion, said that his battalion has “made mission” three out of the last four months by enlisting more than the number of recruits needed by the military on a national level. The L.A. battalion’s recruiting area stretches from San Diego to Fresno.
Wonders said the recruitment goal was “just missed” for last month, and that this is the first time in 25 years the Army has met mission enlistment goals for three consecutive months.
However, he refused to suggest a reason for the recent upward enlistment trend, saying that people join the military for a variety of reasons.
“Most college students don’t even look at the military as an option,” Mollnhauer said. “Everyone has their own needs, but it’s not what the Army needs, it’s what that individual needs. If the job you want is available and you qualify, it’s yours.”
“If you go into the Army and say you want to be a linguist, we’ll send you to school for a year and you’ll become fluent in a language and you’ll get college credit,” Mollnhauer said. “The Army provides a free education, job training, and the opportunity for travel and adventure. We’re trying to show that you can get the same things in the Army that you can in school.”
Captain Tom Alexander, a public affairs officer at the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky, said national U.S. Army enlistment missions have been successful for the last three years.
In March 2003, the Army recruited 6,635 people out of a goal of 6,540, Alexander said. The Army’s goal for 2003 is 73,800 active duty soldiers, and 26,400 reserve soldiers.
Justin Michel, 24, who lives in Isla Vista and graduated from UCSB in 2002 as an English major, is one of the 17 area college students who have recently joined the Army.
“I think it’s a unique situation in Santa Barbara because you have the entire spectrum of people,” Michel said. “From anti-war people who hate Bush all the way down to guys in my frat who are active in ROTC.”
Michel said he has always been very patriotic and will begin his military career by going to school again: the Army’s Officer Candidate School.
“I’ve traveled around the world so I know that what we have in the United States is the best around,” Michel said. “I feel a sense of obligation, that this is something I had to do.”
In regard to the anti-war protesters who have made themselves highly visible, especially in Santa Barbara, Michel says he isn’t bothered.
“To voice their opinion is their right,” Michel said. “I don’t have any problem with that.”
Sergeant Mollnhauer said he has had his run-ins with protesters. Last month, for instance, approximately 30 people staged a “die-in” outside the Army’s local recruitment center on State Street.
“The police dept. asked us to shut our doors because the protesters were planning on storming the office,” Mollnhauer said. “There were some people out there who were really slamming the military and shouting ‘no blood for oil’ or calling us baby killers, but usually people come up to us and are more respectful after they see something like that. A lot of times they ask what they can do for our soldiers overseas.”
Mollnhauer said he still thinks Santa Barbara is a very patriotic town and that the anti-war protesters are just more vocal than local pro-war sentiment. He said he talks to many people in the city who are very supportive of what U.S. troops are doing and he is proud to walk the streets in uniform everyday.
“The military is an all-volunteer force; they volunteered for it. They are not asking for anyone to protest for them,” he said.
“Some areas have a better recruitment market than Santa Barbara,” Mollnhauer said. “But the Army does better in Santa Barbara than other branches. I think it’s because we have more jobs and more incentives.”
Income and amount of parental influence are two variables that Mollnhauer said effects recruitment rates by region.
“Parents still have a view of the military like it was in Vietnam,” Mollnhauer said. “It’s a whole different, more professional Army now than it was back then.”
Recruiters on college campuses or other public places try not to approach people to tell them about the Army Mollnhauer said. They just try to make themselves available to answer questions and provide information.
“I like people to see me out there because it makes them feel more at ease than over the phone,” he said. “I hate making phone calls.”