Michigan National Guard Ranks 1st in Nation for Recruiting

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New statistics released to News 10 by the Michigan National Guard show the state guard ranked first among all U.S. states and territories when it comes to meeting--and exceeding--recrutitment goals.

Gone are the days of "one weekend a month ... two weeks a year" -- at least for the Michigan National Guard.

Recruitment officials say they're meeting recruiting goals by being more frank about where Michigan guardsmen might end up -- namely, Iraq.

Michigan State sophomore Jason Mitchell says he's always seen those serving in the armed forces as role models.

"I look up to these people. I respect what they do. It's something that I've always wanted to do," Mitchell said.

So Mitchell signed up for the Michigan National Guard on the campus of MSU.

And the man in charge of recruiting in the area -- 1st Sgt. David Dunckel -- says Mitchell's not alone.

"We've come out number one now for I think this is our fifth week," Dunckel said.

Statistics show Michigan is first among the 50 states and four U.S. territories in meeting--and exceeding--its recruitment target. The Michigan guard met 182% of what national defense officials set as a goal for the state's 'accessions' -- or recruits. Dunckel says those numbers are a significant improvement over last year's.

"A year ago we were struggling. There were times last year when we were as low as 45th out of 54," he said.

So why the jump in recruitment? Dunckel says it's because of new recruiting methods.

"One weekend a month, two weeks a year, pay for your college. We're not talking about that much anymore."

What Dunckel is saying may sound illogical -- he says he's getting more recruits by telling peope there's a chance they'll go to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"You're gonna see sand. You're gonna go overseas" -- it's what recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Heather Garza says she tells many recruits.

She says that's often exactly what a recruit wants to hear. Sometimes, Garza says, she doesn't even need to bring it up.

"That's the first question they ask: OK, so when do I go to Iraq?"

But could the dramatic uptick in recruits be linked to the economy? One local agency says -- probably not.

"In general, the Michigan economy hasn't changed much since 2003. It stayed the same in 2003 and 2004 for average annual unemployment rates--about 7.1 percent. And this year, up through November, it's improved actually a little bit," according to Kate Tykocki, marketing director for Michigan Works.

The recruiters we spoke with say most new recruits aren't coming to the guard after exploring other employment options. Mitchell matches the trend.

"I enjoy that stuff. It's what I want to do," he said.

-- in Lansing, Tony Tagliavia, News 10.