MARIETTA - U.S. military recruitment is continuing to meet and exceed goals, as it has since the economic downturn first fully gripped the nation, and the military is also now attracting a higher number of college graduates.
Pentagon statistics show there were more than 6,400 new recruits who had bachelor's degrees last year, compared to 5,400 in 2008, a nearly 17 percent jump. The number of recruits with associate degrees also saw a slight increase, from 2,380 to 2,570.
About 5.2 percent of all 2009 military recruits had college degrees.
The trend is taking place in Ohio as well, said Lt. Kristine McAndrews, with the local recruiting district's Navy headquarters in Columbus.
"Recruitment is up, we're exceeding goals, and we have a lot of high-quality recruits who are in the top percentage of their classes," she said. "As far as college graduates go, we're seeing more now, too."
McAndrews said specific numbers couldn't be released Friday, but that the increase was modest.
U.S. Department of Defense numbers show that in July the Army was at 104 percent of its recruitment goal, the Navy and Air Force were at 100 percent, the Marine Corps was at 99 percent - with an intentional slow-down due to high total fiscal-year recruitment numbers.
Three of the six reserve components of the military also exceeded their recruitment goals for the month.
More people choosing to enlist comes as no surprise to Marietta resident Don Peters, who has watched his son, Kyle, and three of Kyle's best friends enlist in the Navy, Army and Air Force recently.
Kyle Peters, a 2007 Marietta High School graduate, is now receiving Navy submarine training in Groton, Conn.
"There are no jobs," Don Peters said. "All the boys had the same problem. They couldn't find work."
His son attended college for two years but kept getting laid off from area jobs, said Peters, who has been in the military himself, along with most of his family members.
"I wanted my son to try something different first," he said. "There is college here, there are jobs so you don't have to go into the military anymore. But the economy left him no choice. It was the same for all his friends."
Despite feeling there was a lack of options, Peters said for his son, who was always interested in the military, joining the Navy was "a great choice."
"He'll have the chance to travel ... and learn something he was never going to learn here," he said.
James Mills, of Lower Salem, said he was proud to see his grandson, also named James, enter the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., this year. He said it was a wise choice, particularly with the economy in such rough shape.
"I think recruitment is up because of patriotism and because it's a way for these kids to get a good education," Mills said. "With all the unemployment right now, it's a way for them to get started."
Mills said his grandson was a high school athlete and 4.0-grade-point-average student who chose the military.
"He's very smart and had a lot of options for college," he said. "He looked at some others and really liked the Naval Academy. He'll have to serve five years after the program, and then he'll probably go into medicine after that."
With so many men and women now interested in joining the armed services, and particularly with an increase in "high-quality" candidates, the process has gotten a lot more competitive, said Peters.
"Before all you had to do is be breathing," he said. "The test standards are a lot higher now because of all the kids wanting to get in."
Due to the increased demand, waivers that excused certain Army disqualifying factors are now rarely used, according to the Associated Press.
Goals for recruitment are also lower after months or years of exceeding goals. The goals are determined by the maximum size of each branch allowed by Congress, based on the annual military budget.
This July, the goal for new Army recruitments was 6,707, compared to a goal of 6,100 in 2009 which was exceeded and a goal of 10,000 in 2008, which was also exceeded.
The July 2010 goal for the Navy was 2,990. In July 2009, it was 3,421, which was met, as was the July 2008 goal of 4,200.
The goal this July for the Marine Corps was 2,847, while in July 2009 it was 3,007, which was exceeded. The July 2008 goal of 4,094 was also exceeded.
The Air Force met a goal of 1,920 recruits this July, a goal of 2,646 in July 2009 and exceeded a goal of 2,541 the year before.
Before the last few years, recruitment goals often fell short. In 2009, the Pentagon announced that it was the first time in 35 years that the U.S. military had met all annual recruitment goals.
McAndrews said as the economy rebounds, the strong recruitment numbers may not hold.
"Once we start seeing a decrease in unemployment, we'll probably start seeing a decrease (in recruiting), too," she said.