GUARD SEES JUMP IN PATRIOTISM

March 26, 2003 11:00 pm
GUARD'S FUTURE: Sgt. 1st Class Rick Bloom, a recruiter and career counselor for La Grande's National Guard unit, talks with two of its youngest members, Jonathan Cartney, center, and Steven Wilkins, right. Cartney is a junior at Cove High School and Wilkins is a senior at La Grande High. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
GUARD'S FUTURE: Sgt. 1st Class Rick Bloom, a recruiter and career counselor for La Grande's National Guard unit, talks with two of its youngest members, Jonathan Cartney, center, and Steven Wilkins, right. Cartney is a junior at Cove High School and Wilkins is a senior at La Grande High. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The United States' war with Iraq is generating a surge of patriotic spirit in Northeast Oregon, National Guard recruiters say.

"I've been plenty busy,'' said Sgt. 1st Class Rick Bloom, a recruiter and career counselor for La Grande's National Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Calvary.

Master Sgt. Bob Droke, the National Guard's recruiting supervisor for Eastern Oregon, had a similar observation.

"I have seven recruiters and they are all busy,'' Droke said.

Bloom said that many people have been spurred to contact him because they want to help their country.

"They want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves,'' he said.

Droke also has seen this attitude prevail.

"They want to contribute to their country in a time of need,'' he said.

Bloom said that many veterans are calling and asking him about the possibility of going back into the military.

"People who have been in and out (of the military) are much more responsive in a crisis. They don't have misconceptions or fears about the military,'' Bloom said.

Unfortunately, a few of these people no longer can serve because of things like health problems. Bloom said it is difficult to tell them this.

"It is heartbreaking for them,'' he said.

Many people have been moved to step forward, but Bloom suspects that some young men have been discouraged by their mothers from joining the National Guard because of the war. He noted, however, that parents today are less fearful of having their sons and daughters join the military than they were after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

When America is not at war, most people join the military so that they can get money to attend college, Droke said.

"Patriotism is down the list,'' he said.

Patriotism becomes a greater motivating factor when America is at war.

"I won't say that it is number one, but it moves up the list,'' Droke said.

People signing up for the National Guard will not soon find themselves in harm's way. A person needs at least six months of training before he or she can join a National Guard unit that is being deployed to a conflict.

Bloom, however, said he never plays down the likelihood of being involved in a military conflict when he counsels recruits during times of war and peace.

"I tell them they are not just going to college. They may go to war,'' he said.

The National Guard had a banner year in Eastern Oregon in 2002, signing up 134 recruits. Droke believes that his recruiters are on track to match this total in 2003.

Droke said there are no new military positions being opened because of the war. In addition, standards are not being lowered.

Droke would like more people to appreciate the sacrifices made by those in the military.

"Freedom is not free,'' he said.

An Army spokesman in La Grande said he was unable to comment on the impact of the war on local recruiting.