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I Want Them

By Kenneth A. Katz

William J. Stehley simply did not believe that I've never been arrested. He asked me four times in our hour-long conversation. Everyone he talks to, he told me, has been arrested at least once.

Stehley also didn't believe that I've never had surgery. He asked twice and told me that's rare as well. He also asked twice if I have any student loans. Both times I told him I don't.

Okay, so what's your GPA? he asked. His jaw dropped when I answered. SAT scores? He smiled when I told him.

For Stehley, the most puzzling thing was the fact that we were having this conversation at all. He told me straight out that he doesn't get too many people with my background--a Harvard education, good grades and SAT scores, no student loans, no police record and no surgeries--calling him at his Waltham office.

I told him I wasn't surprised. Not too many Harvard students are interested in speaking with Stehley. It's not his fault, really.

Stehley is, after all, a recruiter for an organization that attracts relatively few Harvard grads each year--the U.S. Army.

Like Stehley--a staff sergeant entering his second decade in the Army--my roommates don't really understand why I'm interested in the military in the first place.

There's a very good reason, they tell me, why Harvard students aren't banging things to do--more interesting, more fun and more lucrative--than joining the military.

Perhaps. But I haven't thought of anything better. Law school is too predictable and boring. Investment banking is too corporate and stressful. Med school would have to wait until I take my remaing pre-med requirements--all six of them. Grad school sounds just plain miserable. World Teach demands thousands of dollars up front for the privilege of working as a teacher.

Journalism might be nice, but it would mean writing about other people's lives and not really living my own. A job on Capitol Hill might be decent, but the prospect doesn't thrill me. And there's a good three years until the next presidential campaign.

A fellowship--any fellowship--would be nice, but so far I'm zero-for-four on those. I wouldn't mind jaunting around the world, but that won't happen unless I win the lottery.

There are some other options that I'm still considering, like the Peace Corps, VISTA and Teach for America. And there might be some remotely appealing jobs I'll find in the bowels of OCS one of these days. Maybe.

What I do know is that I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life. I've already decided that I want to take a few years off after graduation to do something different--even downright unconventional--before I make a lifelong decision. And unlike many other students who categorically rule out the military, I think military service would be an honorable, rewarding way to spend a few years.

So last month, while getting rejected by fellowships, getting confused about my thesis and getting angst-ridden over my future, I decided to call the U.S. Army. I arranged to meet Stehley on a Saturday a few weeks ago to talk about me and the Army.

He picked me up at Currier House in his government-issue Chevy. We drove over to the Cambridge Public Library on Broadway to talk.

We didn't talk at Harvard since I was--and still am--unsure about the University's policy on on-campus recruiting visits by the military, which does not recruit openly gay individuals and discharges any gays it finds in its ranks. Bill Clinton, I hope, will eliminate that discriminatory policy, removing the only moral problem--a big one, indeed--that I would have with military service.

Using a battery of MAs (military acronyms), Stehley explained the recruitment process. There's the general ASVAB test, the DLAB test for language ability, the DEP for deferring enlistment, the physical, the FBI background check, the contract, the swearing in, the possibility to enlist as an E-4 (specialist or, in even more layman's terms, corporal), the ability to choose one's exact job (from infantry to counterintelligence), the eight weeks of BT (basic training) and four to 52 weeks of AIT (advanced individual training) for every recruit, the 30 days vacation per year, the medical and dental benefits and the opportunity to purchase $100,000 of life insurance for only $8 a month.

The whole incentive package is really geared to less-educated, less well-off Americans. In other words, they'll pay back your student loans but won't give you the cash if you (or your parents) have paid for your education. That's unforturnate, I said. But Stehley said that approach makes good business sense from the Army's point of view.

But what about officer possibilities? Because of cutbacks, Stehley told me, the Army is no longer accepting college graduates directly into its officer candidate programs. He said I would probably get the option to go to officer school once I spent some time on the enlisted side.

Too bad, I said. But I told him I'd think it over.

Iam, I guess, relatively serious about the military--at least as serious as I am about any other post-graduation possibility and far more serious than I am, at the moment, about my thesis. Over the past three weeks I've also talked to Sgt. Grinnon and Petty Officer Davison, Sgt. Jiminez and Cpt. Flores.

I've requested and received a pile of glossy recruiting brochures from the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines. (The Marines even included "Semper Fi" and "Marines" bumper stickers with their packet. Pretty classy.)

All of the branches except the Army have officer programs for college graduates. At least that was the case until last Tuesday, when Stehley called to tell me the Army is reopening its officer program.

I told him we'd talk when I got back from Thanksgiving. I really don't know if I'll ultimately join the U.S. military. But unlike a lot of Harvard students, I haven't written off the option.

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