These Johnnys Ain't Marching 

Expected military enlistment boom was a bust.

A year ago today was another that would live in infamy: our nation's second battering by hostile forces on its own turf. Geographic isolation from "evil" nations had again failed to protect us from the horrors with which the rest of the world is all too familiar. On December 8, 1941, young Americans decided it was time to stand up for their country, protect its citizens, and prove their patriotism by fending off dire enemies. People flocked to recruiting stations and enlisted by the thousands. Nearly sixty years later, on September 12, 2001, it seemed that we, too, could be heroes, just like the brave citizens on Flight 93 or the unflagging firefighters climbing the stairs of the twin towers.

In the weeks after the planes hit, newspapers sang of renewed admiration for the military and law enforcement. Reports came flooding in that citizens all over our bruised nation were phoning their local army stations, speaking to college ROTC recruiters, and promising to put their kids in police and firefighter uniforms for Halloween. "A new spirit of national service has been spawned in the wake of the September 11 attacks," trumpeted CBS News in an October 5 story. Recruitment numbers for the military, police, and fire personnel might, consequently, have been expected to soar.

They did not. "Post-September 11 we saw a doubling in people expressing interest in the military," says Lt. Col. James Cassella, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, "but it did not translate into any additional enlistees."

But a long enlistment process may be delaying the results, patriotic optimists argue. Cassella says he doubts it: "By now we would have seen a spike."

When the attacks occurred, the armed forces had already hit their numbers for the fiscal year and had little incentive to cash in on the interest sparked by 9/11 -- especially since much of it came from less-desirable candidates. "The people coming in asking questions were mostly retirees and veterans," says Sgt. Sherman Sheppard, an Army recruiter for Alameda.

Even with a slowing economy, which usually increases public interest in paramilitary professions, enrollment in police academies reveals a similar trend. "There are 39 providers of the basic police academy all over the state, and for the past few years we have been averaging about 5,500 people going through the academy," says Alan Deal, spokesman for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. "Since September 11, we've actually seen a slight decrease in the numbers."

What did increase, according to holiday media reports, were sales of police and firefighter dolls. The patriotic citizens of the United States, however, were content to stick flags in their windows, while apparently giving up on the idea of being heroes themselves.

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