Uncle Sam wants Micronesians for US military
US military recruiting from the Federated States of Micronesia, per capita, leads all American states. Many see an economic path out of the isolated Pacific nation, but some don't know they might fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.
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It is thought that between 1,000 and 1,500 of the FSM's approximately 107,000 citizens are currently enlisted, with many more veterans now in the US or on one of the nation's 607 widely scattered islands.Skip to next paragraph
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But while some Micronesians see the US military as their ticket out, many here are poorly informed of the risks. The FSM has suffered more casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan per capita than any US state, and has lost soldiers at a rate five times the US average. Some recruits sign on unaware the US is fighting two wars.
Hideaki Charley, a high school senior planning to ship out for Army training this summer, lives in an outer municipality where newspapers and Internet access are hard to come by. He only found out that America was at war in one country, not to mention two, about a year ago – weeks after he had enlisted.
'They didn't tell me about the wars'
"The recruiters didn't tell me about the wars," says Hideaki. "They told me about the good things" such as enlistment bonuses and the chance to travel. "But I didn't ask [about war]," he adds.
US forces may also find the remote islands such fertile ground for recruitment because residents have been largely spared from the deluge of media coverage of the years-old wars. A recent study by the Heritage Foundation of US enlistment rates cites "Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander" as the most overrepresented group as of 2005, with a ratio of 7.49, or an overrepresentation of 649 percent.
With three tours of duty in Vietnam and a career with Special Forces, 1st Sgt. Frank Semens (ret.) is one Pohnpeian who does know the risks. Still, in his role as US Army recruiter here, Semens would rather not discuss with potential recruits the dangers they may face.
"I've never tried to explain the risks to [potential recruits] because I don't want to scare them," says Semens. "I tell them about the opportunities."
Semens says that most Pohnpeian parents assume their child will automatically become a sohnpei, or warrior. "Not so," he tells them. Semens stresses to recruits and their families that there are many noncombat positions available that provide training in applicable skills and trades. It's these opportunities, as well as a long military tradition that keeps Micronesians enlisting at such high rates, says Peter Prahar, US ambassador to the FSM. "If we didn't give a [recruitment] test, there would be an uproar," says Ambassador Prahar. "People want to take this test."
Haglelgam also recognizes the popularity of service. "This is a volunteer military, and people should have the right to make that choice," he says. "My hope is that they will have all the information in front of them when they make their decision."
Even when they know the risks, many still choose to serve. "I would still join. It doesn't matter," says Hideaki. For now, what he most wants to discuss is his first trip off-island this summer to Guam, for a medical checkup with the Army.
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