Monday, March 12, 2007

CND Forces recruiting at MALL ...

Military recruiters show might
Guns and soldiers at mall tempt public to learn more about Forces


David Darling is pondering a career with the military.

When he's not in school, the 20-year-old college student works as a machinist, but he likes the job security and pay the Canadian Forces offers.

"Military is basically a guaranteed job," Darling, of Cambridge, said Saturday. "Not like the auto market, that's for sure."

Darling came to the Canadian Forces recruiting event at the Cambridge Centre mall, looking to explore his options and wondering about job opportunities.

The show inside and outside the mall was the largest military event held in Cambridge in 20 years, said Lieut. Stephen Churm of the Canadian Forces district recruiting centre in Hamilton.

The event was held at the mall because between 8,000 and 12,000 shoppers were expected that day. The event also coincided with the first Saturday of March break, Churm said.

Soldiers were aiming to connect with the public and promote the more than 100 job opportunities the military offers, including jobs for doctors, mechanics and infantry soldiers.

In southwestern Ontario, the Forces have been trying to draw 1,212 new recruits -- more than half to the regular force -- in a year-long drive finishing at the end of this month.

So far, they've attracted more than 1,100 people but only 480 to the regular forces.

Across Canada, the forces want to add 23,000 soldiers -- 13,000 regular force and 10,000 reservists -- over at least the next five years.

Reservists are easier to recruit because the work is local and part-time, Churm said. But some people use the reserves as a stepping stone to the regular forces.

Jennifer Russell, a master corporal with the Canadian Forces, is a full-time reservist with the 705 Communications Squadron in Hamilton. She joined the army when she was 19.

"Basically, I was looking for something new, something interesting," said Russell, 25.

She had been out of high school for six months and was working full time in a minimum-wage job before she joined.

She learned about what the army was like from a friend in the reserves.

"It's just my nature to help people and I saw the military as another avenue to help people," she said.

Three years after she joined, she recruited her twin sister, who works in the same unit.

"It's nice because we can share experiences and stories."

Churm said the Forces want dedicated and responsible people who have a desire to make a difference in the world, Churm said.

"It's not just another job, it's a lifestyle," he said.

He considered Saturday's event a success.

Displays were set up inside and outside the mall. A leopard tank and a coyote light-armoured vehicle were among the attractions in the parking lot, next to Hespeler Road. Kids lined up to spin around in the coyote's turret.

A field hospital was set up under a tent.

One popular attraction was the mobile kitchen trailer, where people could get a free cup of hot chocolate.

A helicopter was supposed to land but was cancelled because of the morning fog.

Inside the mall, soldiers with the Royal Highland Fusiliers, a locally based regiment, had several items on display, including rifles and a machine gun.

Kids got to try on a tactical vest and helmet. Others had their faces painted with camouflage colours.

Alicia Robbins of Kitchener was 42-years-old when she joined the regular forces.

"I always wanted to join the Canadian Forces, I just thought I was too old," said Robbins, 48.

She was studying computer networks at college when a classmate, who had served in the air force, told her about the military's signing bonuses.

She had planned to work in South America but joined the Canadian Forces instead.

Today, Robbins works as a clerk in the recruiting centre in Kitchener, earning about $53,000 a year. She is also working toward a bachelor's degree at the University of Waterloo.

"I love the army," she said. "I will never have any other job."

Recruiting is done at centres on Bay Street North in Hamilton and on Duke Street in Kitchener.

An applicant must bring a school transcript showing at least 15 high school credits, as well as a social insurance card and birth certificate.

He or she must also be at least 17 years old and not facing criminal charges.

Applicants have to write a two-hour aptitude test, which helps predict which trades they're likely to excel in.

Military career counsellors then meet with applicants to determine whether they are suitable and eligible for one of the three trades they're considering in either the regular or reserve forces, Churm said.

"You are never forced into a trade that you don't want," he said.

The next step is a medical exam.

If everything up to that stage has gone smoothly, the military might offer an applicant a job within a week, Churm said.

"The individual applying has complete control over the process."

There is no longer a fitness test in the recruiting process, he said. However, regular force soldiers who don't make the cut at the military's recruit school in St. Jean, Que., are put into a "fitness platoon," where they are brought up to standard through exercise training.

An applicant's commitment to the Forces begins on his or her enrolment day, when a contact for three to nine years is signed.

Applicants can join the Army, Navy or Air Force as either an officer or as a non-commissioned member.

Officers are like an organization's managers and must have or be working toward a university degree, whereas non-commissioned members do more hands-on work in the military, Churm said.

This year, the military is making extra efforts to draw people to several occupations -- as artillery officers, armoured officers and naval weapons and avionics systems technicians, for instance.

Capt. Holly Brown, a Canadian Forces recruiter, said the prospect of serving in Afghanistan doesn't seem to be hurting recruiting efforts.

"There are some that definitely see that (going to Afghanistan) as something they want to do," she said.

Any soldier involved in a combat or combat-support trade, such as a vehicle technician or a medic, could be deployed to Afghanistan within the next two years, she said.

Regular-force soldiers must go where their regiment is sent, but reservists will only be deployed to another country if they volunteer to do so.

Maj. Apollo Edmilao, based out of Eight Wing Trenton, completed a six-month tour in Afghanistan about three years ago.

This year, he's going to be sent to a "secret base" in the Middle East from June to December, he said.

Even though Canadian soldiers are highly trained and motivated, some are tired from serving multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, Edmilao said.

"We need new people," he said. "That's why recruiting is such a high priority."