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September 30, 2014

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MILITARY:

Economy has many enlisting, reenlisting

In a recession, the promise of a paycheck, benefits is motivation for the jobless

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Jason Rainey has given himself a March deadline: If he hasn’t found a job in Las Vegas by then, he’s going to join the Army.

He’s been job hunting for six months to no avail.

“It’s ridiculously hard,” the ex-Navy airplane mechanic said.

Rainey belongs to the latest wave of job hunters in the suffocating recession who are turning to the military to get what they can’t find in civilian life: a decent paycheck, health benefits and a pension. They’ve been in the workforce for a few years and have stalled in their careers or been laid off.

Rainey’s search started with a desire to be closer to family in Las Vegas but has taken on more urgency now that the company he works for at Fort Erwin in California will lose its contract with the base soon.

More and more, going back to the military is looking like the 32-year-old’s best option — much to his mother’s dismay.

“Army is a bad word to my mom,” his sister, Alarice Rainey said.

Not only would the Army keep Rainey from returning to his hometown of Las Vegas but it would also likely send to him to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Yeah, but if I can’t find a job here ...” he said, trailing off with a knowing shrug of resignation that in this economy, one can’t be too picky. “It’s a steady job.”

Air Force Staff Sgt. Donald Busky, a recruiter, said he started seeing an older-than-typical age group inquire about enlisting early this summer, and those numbers have increased in the past month or two as the economic climate has worsened.

Just on Friday, Busky signed up an enlistee who said he had not considered the military until he lost his $40-an-hour job.

“The Air Force might not be for the rest of their life but they know they’ll get a paycheck twice a month,” Busky said.

Busky’s goal for 2008 was to enlist 24 people. He’s had 63 sign their names on the line.

A few of those were recent college graduates who hadn’t been able to find suitable jobs, he said.

The Air Force seems to be the service of choice for those seeking out the military as their answer to the dire economy, but local Army and Navy recruitment offices have also reported hearing the economy mentioned as a reason to enlist.

(The Marine Corps hasn’t really experienced this. “We tell them, if you’re just looking for a job, this is probably not the place you want to be,” Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Cannon, a recruiter, said.)

The Air Force doesn’t deploy nearly as many troops as the Army and the Marines.

As recent recruit Airman Kristina Blake explains: “I knew that education and training is their No. 1 priority — not sending you off to war.”

But deployments don’t seem to be a deterrent anyway.

“That’s the last thing on people’s mind because the economy is so bad they just need the money,” Busky said.

And many are joining with economic benefits in mind, thinking when the economy recovers they’ll reenter the workforce with a degree to help them be more competitive, he said.

The reserve and the National Guard have also seen some increase, with people looking to supplement a dwindling civilian income.

Staff Sgt. Christina Simmons, an Air Force Reserve recruiter, said one enlistment candidate had just gotten out of the Air Force in October and almost immediately had regrets. He thought he had a job lined up but when he went in for the final interview, he was told the company was downsizing and couldn’t hire him.

Now he has no health insurance for his wife and two children and is facing a hostile job market. The Air Force Reserve doesn’t provide free medical benefits, but the $253 per month for a family plan is better than paying for medical care out of pocket.

Busky said regretting leaving active duty is a common story. Those who served in all branches come in seeking to rejoin.

“They thought the grass was greener, and it’s not,” Busky said.

David Bailey, 28, got out of the Air Force five months ago — his unit was deploying and he had a baby on the way. He hoped to find a job in construction.

“I knew it would be a chore, but not this hard,” he said. “I was looking left and right, but I couldn’t find anything. I need something stable. And health care for my baby.”

He rejoined the Air Force this week.

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