HAYDEN, Idaho U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall Smith and U.S. Navy Machinist Mate 1st Class Tony Mahler are keeping it in the family.
They joined the military 10 years apart; Smith joined the Army in 1982 as their youngest uncle had, and Mahler the Navy in 1992, following the lead of their oldest uncle. Out of 28 cousins, seven have served in the military.
Since February, the two cousins, who are 10 years apart in age, have been working next door to each other at the military recruiting offices in Hayden. They've come a long way from their days of taking corners too fast on dirt roads in Smith's '73 Roadrunner.
"I was working construction and everybody knows around here construction isn't very stable," Mahler, 37, said. "It's good when it's good and it's bad when it's bad. I came into the Navy because I was newly married and needed stability in my life."
Smith, 48, needed stability after getting laid off from the Sunshine Mine.
"In recruiting efforts we find that when we're talking to somebody they think the military is the last resort," Smith said. "But in my experience the military should be one of the first choices."
"It's a job you're not going to get laid off from," he said. "It gives the stability that a lot of people these days are looking for, especially with the way the job market is going."
The stability gained through the military and the close office space are just two of many things the cousins share. Growing up in north Idaho, they said they've always been close even though Mahler moved around during his high school years. Mahler graduated from Kamiah High School in 1990, Smith from Lakeland High School in 1978.
"I used to baby-sit his kids," Mahler said.
"And I baby-sat him," Smith replied.
They said family has always been important to them and transcends the Army-Navy rivalry. Mahler said once, while working in Moscow, Idaho, Smith called him. He had a woman in his office who had some questions about the Navy and wondered if Mahler would answer them. Mahler did, much to his supervisor's surprise.
"He was saying, 'Why are you helping an Army recruiter out?"' Mahler recalled. "I said 'Because he's my cousin."'
Mahler said since he has been in Hayden he has enlisted 20 to 24 new recruits but doesn't try and persuade them to join the Navy over any other branch.
"I'm honest with all my applicants," he said. "I tell them whether it's good or whether it's bad so they can make an informed decision for themselves. Nothing is hidden."
Smith said he encourages potential recruits who have a family tradition in one branch or another to stick with that tradition unless they have a specific job in mind.
"For the most part, about 50 percent of the people that join the military join the Army because it's the largest service," he said. "But one service doesn't pay any more than another service for an E1 (the starting pay grade)."
Mahler and Smith are both retiring in 2013 and are looking forward to celebrating with a double retirement party when Smith returns from Montana, where he will be transferred this October.