The Persian Gulf is roughly 6,500 miles from Manhattan. But the little Armed Forces recruiting station in the heart of Times Square is as good a place as any to feel its vibrations.
The men and women who crowd into the booth these cold winter days to offer up their young lives for their country have only to turn their gaze upward for news of the war to hit home.Bright red letters scroll continuously past on the electronic sign that girdles 1 Times Square, America's New Year's Eve headquarters: ". . . NAVY PLANES HAVE SUNK 2 IRAQ SHIPS IN NORTHERN PERSIAN GULF AND CHASED 2 OTHER BOATS FROM AREA . . ." reads one headline, a service provided by New York Newsday.
1st Sgt. James Ellis, the Army recruiter, reads the sign frequently. This marks the second time he's remained Stateside while others have gone off to war, and "yes, it is hard. I think about it all the time." The 39-year-old paratrooper enlisted in 1972 only to sit out Vietnam at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"There was a greater need for me here," Ellis is quick to add. He understands in a way others might not the motivation of people like Cephus Arrington, 26, a bicycle messenger who has yet to pass the Army's screening test but who has already quit his job in his eagerness to join up.
"There are basically three reasons why people enlist: service to country, education and training, travel and adventure," Ellis says.
While an Army-financed education might not seem anywhere near the bargain it did a few weeks ago, the Persian Gulf war has produced a surge in patriotism and pride that's almost palpable within the glass-walled recruiting station.
"The service-to-country category is up," Ellis says, as are supportive comments from strangers, who smile and wave and yell "Way to go" as he strides by in his starched Army uniform.
Enlistments by professionals may be on the rise, too. Last week, a 30-year-old New Yorker traded a law practice for an Army uniform, and a woman fresh out of medical school signed up to serve.
For a recruiter, these are good days. Says Air Force Staff Sgt. Ronald W. Watford, who shares the cubicle with Ellis and others, "The people coming in are people who want to fight."
Robert Schnickel dropped out of high school in ninth grade. Now 17, he has a new incentive for earning his high school equivalency diploma:
Without it, the Army won't take him.
The Marines are looking for a few good men. Kevin Miranda thinks he may be one of them. Miranda, 18, hopes to enlist in July, after picking up the three additional college credits he needs to qualify.