Marine Corps has no trouble recruiting York County women

Alyssa Jackson
  • The local recruitment office has not had to change strategies to get more recruits, female or otherwise
  • The JROTC program at Dallastown School District provides unique education opportunities for students

Nicole Mercado, a 21-year-old York County School of Technology graduate, spent Thursday evening with a handful of other poolees, or Marine Corps recruits who are going to boot camp in the near future. To the sound of Staff Sgt. Rene Lopez's voice, she sprinted several yards at Cousler Park and did crunches while reciting the 11 general orders of the Corps.

Mercado decided to join the Marine Corps after college didn't work out and she didn't want to work in retail or in a restaurant. Each week she spends an evening working out with other poolees to get ready, mentally and physically, for boot camp through the military recruiting office at 315 Loucks Road. She leaves for boot camp  Oct. 3.

"It's not common for a female to say she's a Marine," Mercado said.

She's right about that; according to an AP story, only 7  to 8 percent of the Corps has been women, which is the smallest percentage of women among all branches of military service. In Virginia, recruiters have turned to high school sports to try to recruit more women for combat jobs and other front-line positions.

John Wandishin, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge at the local military recruitment office, said that the York County offices aren't necessarily targeting women in their recruitment strategies. But, he said, he is always able to make the quota headquarters requires. That particular office only recruits for the Marine Corps.

"Being a Marine recruiter in the York area is phenomenal, it's such a patriotic area," Wandishin said. "We never really have an issue with our numbers, and it's nice because it's the best quality of applicants."

Typically, the office needs five to seven female recruits each year, Wandishin said. So far in the last year, which for Marines runs October to October, the office has recruited six women and 51 men.

Military class: Dallastown Area High School is just one school in the area that gives students the option to join the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps to learn more about leadership, citizenship, personal growth and responsibility, community service and military subjects. Though the JROTC program is not a recruitment tool for the local offices, some of the students who take the JROTC elective do decide to join a branch of the military.

There are currently 168 students involved in the program, according to Lt. Col. Joseph Innerst, the senior Marine instructor for the program. Students take the class as an elective and can opt for one year or for all four years of their high school careers.

Innerst said the point of the JROTC program is to help kids mature and make good decisions about their post-high school choices, which could involve going to college, going into the military or going into the work force. The program makes it clear to participants that it is their choice whether or not to enlist and is careful not to pressure students.

Innerst said that approximately one quarter of the programs cadets are female. The female students are particularly active in the JROTC extracurricular activities, including the female drill team, a competitive physical-training team; the competitive marksmanship team; and the cyber patriot team, which is involved in information technology and identifying technological shortfalls and security issues.

"We’re an inclusive program," Innerst said. "I’ve never told a cadet or potential cadet that they can’t participate, because I can’t give up on a kid."

For 17-year-old Thomas Dias, a senior at Dallastown and the leader of the cadet battalion, the wide variety of extracurriculars and the diversity of the students who are a part of the JROTC program are his favorite parts of participating. Dias has been a member of the JROTC program all four years in high school and knew he wanted to join as a freshman because he would ultimately like to go to the Naval Academy, like his father and uncle.

"I really enjoy JROTC because of the wide variety of opportunities I have," Dias said. "Not only is it physical fitness, but it’s also character-building. I feel like anyone in high school who doesn’t feel like they could fit in anywhere else, they could fit in with us."

The program helps teach students a number of real-world skills and has them get involved in their community through 4,000-5,000 hours of combined community service by the cadets each year.

The part of the curriculum that focuses on military subjects also gives students more knowledge on the Marines and U.S. history. For those who decide to join the military, these lessons can be valuable and put them ahead of other recruits, Wandishin said.

"This area is such a great area to be a part of," Wandishin said. "I love being a part of York. I hope people around here understand how much the military appreciates being in a supportive area like this."