Older Recruits Fill Out Military


More enlistees in their 30s, 40s
by Brian MacQuarrie

Kevin Adams, 39, has a white-collar job, a girlfriend, a cat, and a home in Marblehead. For exercise, he likes to sail.

At 4 a.m. tomorrow, he will leave all that behind and head off for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., where a drill sergeant will order him to do push-ups, sit-ups, and run with recruits half his age.

Adams has signed up for a six-year stint in the Army Reserve. That commitment could mean deployment to Iraq, where Reserve and National Guard soldiers are an integral part of the occupying force, and where recent US fatalities have made October one of the deadliest months of the war.

Adams has joined an increasing number of 30- and 40-year-olds who have been enlisting since March 2005, when the Army, pressured by declining enlistment and the need for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, began to raise the maximum enlistment age from 35. The maximum age for the Army and the Army Reserve is 42.

Adams, who investigates medical malpractice claims for Harvard-affiliated hospitals, said he seized what seemed like one last chance to fulfill a decades-old dream to defend his country…


“I feel like here’s an opportunity for me to contribute,” said Adams, who was raised beside the Revolutionary War battlefield in Yorktown, Va.

Army data show a dramatic increase in older recruits since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In Massachusetts, the number of new soldiers over 30 years old soared 250 percent in the regular Army and Army Reserve from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2006, from 14 to 49, outpacing the 102 percent increase in older recruits in New England and the 92 percent jump nationally.

Older new recruits can make good soldiers if they are able to withstand the grueling physical demands of basic training, said John E. Pike , director of GlobalSecurity.org , a defense research group in Alexandria, Va. But, he said, “an 18-year-old boy is far more amenable and susceptible to soldierization, which is the process of breaking you down and building you back up.”

“I’m not sure you can do that to a 40-year-old,” he said.

Asked why middle-aged people might seek a career in the military, Pike said: “There are a lot of people in this life that are stuck in dead-end meaningless jobs that’s paying the bills and that’s about it. The Army would be a way out of that.”

“Some people need to be on a mission,” he said.

Some military officers say patriotic sentiment, and a desire not to be left behind as the country faces two overseas conflicts, is driving the trend.

“They don’t want to be sitting on a barstool in 10 years and saying, `What if?’ ” said Major Joseph Teehan, a Dorchester native who commands an Army recruiting office based in downtown Boston.

Adams did not say how much he earns working for the Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions . He plans to return to his job, but during basic training, officer candidate school, and military-intelligence instruction, all of which could take more than nine months, Adams will take a pay cut that will slash his salary by two-thirds.

After that, Adams will be required to train one weekend a month for the Reserve, plus a two-week stint during the year, unless he is sent to Iraq.

If that happens, Adams said, he hopes it will allow some younger soldier, whose whole life is ahead of him, to come home.

“If I can get somebody home who hasn’t lived as much as I have, it’s worth it,” Adams said.

Adams said he started training about a year ago after he realized even sailing made him feel sore.

“I got tired of the aches and pains and realized I was a meatball,” he said. Spurred by his girlfriend, he started doing push-ups and sit-ups, and dieting. Now, he’s running 15 to 20 miles a week.

Army Major Mark Spear, who commands the North Shore recruiting company, said older recruits give the Army soldiers who have wisdom and life experiences that younger people lack.

“What they bring to the Army is a father- and mother-type figure,” Spear said. “A company commander or a platoon sergeant will look into his formation, see he’s got a few older folks, with degrees, from full-time jobs, and put them in charge of a mission.”

Teehan, 43, agreed. Older enlistees also have to be as physically fit as teenage recruits to pass basic training, he said.

Joseph Sadighi, a 33-year-old chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who recently enlisted in the Army, has been working out in anticipation of his service. In June, after the first group of graduate students he has advised get their doctorates, he will report for duty to Fort Benning, Ga.

“Given my plans, I’ve been a fitness fanatic lately,” said Sadighi, a who is single.

He hopes to command a platoon one day.

“I need to take my turn,” said Sadighi. “If I let this chance go by, I would look back and regret it very much.”

Combat in Iraq is a possibility that he has accepted, Sadighi said. “I do feel a sense of duty to do this,” he added.

John Robinson, a 39-year-old mechanic from South Attleboro who joined the Army Reserve last Monday, said he is ready for the physical challenges.

But Robinson, who is married and has an 8-year-old daughter, has been hearing from friends and loved ones who are concerned about his decision.

“I’ve got a lot of people saying, `What, are you crazy?’ I’ve got a boat; I’ve got jet skis; I’ve got a motorcycle; I’ve got it all,” said Robinson, who will enter the Reserve as a private first class. “I’m not getting any younger, but why should I be exempt from doing the right thing for the country?”

“A lot of people take for granted the freedom that we have in this country, but they don’t understand where that freedom comes from,” said Robinson.

Two other factors helped sway Robinson: he is betting government medical benefits for veterans are better than anything he would have received as a retired mechanic; and he believes the training he will undergo in a military police unit will give him better job opportunities after his service ends.

Before he leaves for Fort Benning, Adams will be spending his last hours as a civilian packing the few items he is allowed to bring.

“I’m ready to show them what I can do,” Adams said. “One of the questions I asked myself was, `Would I still want to do this if it cost me my job?’

“And the answer was yes, let’s do it, and figure out the details later.”


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