WASHINGTON, DC—Citing a desire to finally make a difference in Iraq, in the past two weeks, more than 800,000 young people from upper-middle- and upper-class families have put aside their education, careers, and physical well-being to enlist in the military, new data from the Department Of Defense shows.
"I don't know if it was the safety and comfort of the holidays or what, but I realized that my affluence and ease of living comes at a cost," said Private Jonathan Grace, 18, who was to commence studies at Dartmouth College next fall, but will instead attend 12 weeks of basic training before being deployed to Fallujah with the 1st Army Battalion. "I just looked at my parents in their cashmere sweaters and thought, 'Who am I to go to an elite liberal arts college and spend all my time reading while, in the real world, thousands of kids my age are sacrificing their lives for our country?' It's not right."
Added Grace: "Whether I agree with the war or not, our president needs us, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let our least advantaged citizens bear the brunt of this awesome burden."
At the on-campus temporary recruitment table at Reed College in Portland, OR, the line of students eager to sign up for active duty stretched around the block Monday. Recruiters across the country reported a similar trend, with scores of young people asking how soon they could be ready to go to battle in Iraq.
"They don't have these recruitment centers where I live," said Daniel Feldman, 26, who resides in the affluent neighborhood of Brookline, MA and recently passed his bar exam. "I didn't realize you could just sign up, but now that I do, all of my friends from law school, yoga class, and temple are going to join, too. And not the Reserves either. We're talking down and dirty, right on the front lines."
Drill sergeants at boot camps in South Carolina and San Diego, though at first skeptical of the recent crop of potential Marines, said they have been impressed by their work ethic, claiming the wealthy youngsters' desire to "do their part" is undeniable.
"They haven't complained once since getting here," Sergeant Greg Forenczek said of the new upper-crust recruits. "Usually, after the first two hours, you know who's going to get dismissed early, but not with these kids. There's a fire in their eyes—a fearless passion to become U.S. soldiers"
"They inspire me," Forenczek added.
New Marine Sierra Pettingill, a 22-year-old sociology major who left Duke University before her final semester, said she felt compelled to serve after realizing she did not have a single acquaintance who had died, or even served, in Iraq.
"I was sending out invitations to my champagne-brunch birthday get-together when I heard that U.S. military casualties in Iraq had reached 2,900," Pettingill said. "I decided then and there that I would not allow this inherently unequal system to perpetuate any longer, no matter how much I want to go have martini night at the Oak Room."
Though most of the privileged enlistee youths said they were motivated by a newfound concern that America's reputation could be permanently damaged with a loss in Iraq, others have cited the examples set by their relatives as instrumental in their decision to join.
"My great-great-great-great grandfather would not have been able to make a fortune in the fur trade and real-estate business had it not been for the brave people who fought in the Revolutionary War," said 24-year-old John Jacob Astor VIII, who has put all of his business ventures on hold indefinitely. "My children are going to know the importance of stepping up to the plate when their nation needs them."
"From this day forth, the Astor name will be synonymous with sacrifice," he added.
U.S. Gen. John Abizaid, who has in the past argued against a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, now says that with the influx of nearly a million troops expected to be on the ground Feb. 1, the region should be stabilized within six weeks.