Taken for a Ride

Free helicopter flights draw educators into a military recruitment drive.

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When a Black Hawk helicopter descended from the sky, raising dust and a deafening noise, to land at New Jersey’s Egg Harbor Township High School on a Tuesday morning in May, Margaret Beninati was eager to climb aboard. The business and computer teacher had accepted an invitation to spend a day with recruiters from New Jersey’s National Guard specifically so that she could ride in the 20,000-pound bird.

The recruiters shuttled Beninati and some of her colleagues 50 miles to their headquarters at Fort Dix, where they toured the facility, fired M16 rifles in a simulated range, climbed into a tank, tested out night-vision goggles—and digested a PowerPoint presentation on how serving in the Guard can benefit students.

Free helicopter flights draw educators into a military recruitment drive.

Dubbed “Educate the Educator,” the program is the brainchild of Lt. Col. Dennis Devery, who oversees recruiting for the New Jersey Guard. During the 2005-06 academic year, Devery says, recruiters ferried about 10 educators to Fort Dix two or three times each week.

It appears to have worked. Before launching the program, the New Jersey Guard only enlisted about 500 high school and college students each year, Devery says. This year, more than 900 signed up, despite the steadily growing number of National Guard casualties—five from New Jersey since the Iraq war began. That success has gotten the attention of recruiters from other states; Devery has fielded calls from Delaware, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Utah.

Geography Lesson

63% of Americans ages 18-24 could not locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

“I was a little skeptical going in,” Beninati says, because one of her students joined the New Jersey Guard and was deployed to Iraq right after basic training. But the presentation—especially mention of the $20,000 signing bonus, education benefits, and the fact that only a fraction of Guard members are deployed overseas at any time—made her more likely to cite it as an option to students. “Of course it was a sales pitch, because who takes teachers up in a Black Hawk helicopter?” she says. “But it was very subtle.”

In addition to the helicopter ride, Devery says, teachers appreciate getting more information about the Guard: “They’re out there trying to find ways to improve these kids’ lives, and this is another way to improve kids’ lives.”

Vol. 18, Issue 02, Page 8

Published in Print: October 1, 2006, as Taken for a Ride
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