It's two in the a.m. here in Texas. I should be sleeping but this headline is creepin' me out:
On Farthest U.S. Shores, Iraq Is a Way to a Dream
Billmon calls the NYTimes the New Pravda. I gotta admit, I used to have the Times delivered way back when. It's still the first News site that I go to in the morning. It stung a little hearing it belittled. But not after reading this piece of crap.
Imagine a place where Army recruiters had to turn folks away instead of worrying about making their recruiting goals. This is the place:
SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands - By jogging at sunset on the white sands of a palm-fringed beach here, 17-year-old Audrey O. Bricia is doing more than toning up for her next try in this island's Miss Philippines contest. She is getting in shape for United States Army boot camp
To gain an edge on the competition for enlistment, she reserved a seat two days in advance to take Army's aptitude test on a recent Saturday morning here. Safely ensconced in her seat, she watched an Army recruiter turn away 10 latecomers, all new high school graduates.
Why the crush to beat the rush?
The Army has found fertile ground in the poverty pockets of the Pacific. The per capita income is $8,000 in American Samoa, $12,500 in the Northern Marianas and $21,000 in Guam, all United States territories. In the Marshalls and Micronesia, former trust territories, per capita incomes are about $2,000.
The Army minimum signing bonus is $5,000. Starting pay for a private first class is $17,472. Education benefits can be as much as $70,000.
Bottom line, these are the harsh realities that folks are dealing with. This is also the sort of thing that can be spun into a positive. Markos often speaks of the value of using the Army as a venue for social promotion, working your way up by dint of hard work for your country.
Do the recruiters understand the value of their quarry?
"You can't beat recruiting here in the Marianas, in Micronesia," said First Sgt. Olympio Magofna, who grew up on Saipan and oversees Pacific recruiting for the Army from his base in Guam. "In the states, they are really hurting," he said. "But over here, I can afford go play golf every other day."
Oh, good. We do what we can to support the war effort . . . now, watch this drive.
How successful are these folks in their assigned duties? They're right up there near the top in terms of "Producers."
Here, where "America starts its day," the Army recruiting station in Guam has 4 of the Army's top 12 "producers." While small in real terms, enlistments from Guam, Saipan, and American Samoa are the nation's highest per capita. Saipan, with a population of about 60,000 American citizens and green card holders, has 245 soldiers in Iraq.
How cute is that? "Where America starts its day" They've got the juke and jive down good.
But the recruits know the score.
"I am scared about Iraq, but I am going to have to give something in return for those benefits I want," said Ms. Bricia, a daughter of Filipino immigrants whose ambition is to attend nursing school in California.
And some don't have such lofty aspirations; they're just looking for a way off the island.
"It's the benefits," said Arnold Balisalisa, who took the aptitude test here in late June. Taking a break from his $3.25-an-hour job at a McDonald's, he said: "It is better than staying on this island. There's nothing going on here. I'm 19, and I have never even been to Guam."
Everyone sees the choice as a wager where the decision to ante up has far-reaching ramifications.
"I heard about that Jessica Lynch, and I thought, 'My daughter? No way!' " she said, recalling the American private who was briefly captured early in the war. In the end, she signed the Army authorization papers for her daughter, a minor.
Potential recruits say that Iraq weighs heavily in their decision.
"The scary part is, what if you go to Iraq, and someone shoots you?" Mr. Balisalisa during his break at work
For reasons that I cannot even begin to fathom. The toll is bracketed, cushioned from the reader:
[American Samoa, population of 67,000, has lost six soldiers in Iraq, most recently Staff Sgt. Frank F. Tiai of Pago Pago on July 17. Guam has lost three. Saipan has lost one.]
What the fuck? Why not go all the way and redact it altogether? These folks know the score.
"I see yellow ribbons everywhere," Staff Sgt. Levi Suiaunoa said by telephone from the Army recruiting station in Pago Pago, capital of the territory. " 'Come home safely' signs almost litter the streets."
Now contrast that with the somber attitude of the church.
"I buried at least one myself, but it hasn't stopped the number of recruits going in," said the Rev. J. Quinn Weitzel, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Samoa-Pago Pago. "They still feel like they want to do something special for the United States."
I buried at least one myself? Somebody sign this dude up for a course in media relations.
Maybe the bishop could take a page out of the playbook of the New Pravda. Cue the hymn and bust out the flags!
In Guam and Saipan, the letters U.S.A. are emblazoned on license plates, as if to educate tourists that these territories are American.
"There is a very strong sense of patriotism throughout the U.S. territories," David B. Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, said. "How else can you explain someone like Ray Yumul, a sitting Northern Marianas congressman who has spent a year serving in Iraq? He's certainly not someone who needed the military as a ticket out."
Indeed, how else can you explain the exception to the rule?
"We support our Liberation Days, our Memorial Days, our Flag Days," said Ruth A. Coleman, military and veterans affairs director for the Northern Marianas. A retired Air Force officer, she said: "Look at me: my father, husband and I were in the service. My youngest son is an M.P. His wife is an M.P. commander. My middle son is in the Air Force."
The title says it all: On Farthest U.S. Shores, Iraq Is a Way to a Dream.