About three and half years ago I sat down one evening and interviewed someone who is very near and dear to me: my husband Keith. I did this as an assignment for my creative writing nonfiction college class I was taking at the time. I thought I would share this interview with all of you now. My sincerest hope is you will be as moved as those I initially shared this with. As it is about 3,000 words long, this will be broken up into two segments. One today and one tomorrow. Please comment and let me know what you think.
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I sat down the other evening and interviewed someone who would be considered your average, everyday Joe. His name is Sergeant First Class Keith Ryan Tunstall. Yes, you may recognize the last name, as he has been my husband for the last 15 years with hopefully many more to come.
His role in the Army is one of the most crucial and he is one of the many that are behind the scenes for every single soldier put in the Army today: He is an Army Recruiter. A recruiter is always stereotyped as being conniving and telling all of his or her prospects lies just to get them to sign up. This could not be further from the truth when Keith puts someone in the Army.
He joined the Army on July 24, 1992 and was shipped off to Basic Training on August 21. There are many different reasons why someone might join the Army, and it is usually not for the honor or the glory. Keith’s is one of the most typical you will hear: The college money, the problem of being plain flat broke, and wanting to do something different.
The furthest thing from his mind was to ever make a career out of the Army. “I initially wanted to join for a couple of years, get my college money, come back, finish off school and get a job.” But somewhere along the line, “I fell in love with it. I enjoyed the camaraderie with the espirit‑de‑corp. The entire idea of it all. Met the best friends of my life in it. I had a good time overall.”
He initially enlisted as a 12F as a Combat Engineer/Bridge Crew Member. “I used to operate bridging and demolition tanks as part of an engineering mission and fell in love doing my job.” When he was initially looking, he wanted something that would relate to his engineering degree he was obtaining in college. “When I talked to my recruiter, he unfortunately made it seem like the engineering field that I was going into was gonna be more of that where it would line up with my degree.” Like the stereotypical recruiter, Keith’s lied to him. He only saw his recruiter twice: The day he joined and the day he left for basic training. “I walked into basic training pretty much blind.”
Keith took his experience and made sure to change it when he became a recruiter. “I promised myself when I came out to recruiting that I would not treat my soldiers like that. I make it a point to tell them everything there is to know. The good and the bad so that way when they leave for basic training they are completely prepared for the experience; and to the best of my ability I have told them everything upfront. Now on occasion there may be a piece of it that they’re upset about. For instance, as I explain basic training sometimes I’ll go week by week and explain exactly what to expect. Although they weren’t upset about it, they’ll come back and said, ‘you never told me about the gas chamber.’ And so I made it a point to add that to my brief when I talk to them. There were times when I would forget something but not in a sense that I was trying to lie to them about it.”
Someone who wants to join the Army is called an applicant. “They’re applying for a job; just like any other job.” Once they have joined, they are considered to be Future Soldiers. They are called Future Soldiers because “they’re in the system, they have reserved a job, but they’re not getting paid to actually work for the Army yet until they leave for training. Most people remember it being called the Delayed Entry Program.”
I asked him if he had ever been deployed before. He told me yes but not in a war time situation. He has been to Haiti for a couple of weeks and to Oregon when they had to fight forest fires.
His initial duty station was Ft. Polk, LA. He was only there a couple of months when “the Second Armored Division actually took the entire corp and moved it over to Ft. Hood, [TX]. During this time, I went to Haiti a couple of weeks to build school houses. Then I was stationed at Ft. Hood for a number of years. [I] moved down to Ft. Carson, CO where I ended up taking an honorable discharge going into the reserves to finish off my college. And after getting bored of that, I decided to go into what’s called Active/Guard Reserve and work as a Reserve Recruiter for the Army here in Chicago.”
When asked why he decided to do recruiting, he replied, “At the time I was working in the trades. Although work was doing well, it was going up and down. So I decided to go with more of a secure job where the Army guarantees you a check every two weeks regardless. And I was looking at that for my family.”
With recruiting, he had been told what it would probably be like before he did it. “Every experience in life is what you make of it. So what other people have experienced may not be the same that you experience or how they react to it. I think for the most part I was well briefed, knowing full well it was going to be long hours, things like that.” It turned out to be pretty much what he had expected, having both good days and bad as with any job.
He went to school for recruiting in July of 2001. He was at school when 9/11 happened and graduated only three days later on September 14. He reported to the Chicago Recruiting Battalion to start his new job in the Army.
Most people believe that recruiters get paid extra money for putting someone in the Army. “The recruiters get paid an extra allowance every month to be recruiters. What this allowance is for is the cost of living on the economy. It is used to help pay for dinners or taking applicants out. We get paid an extra $450 a month to be recruiters regardless if we put anybody in the Army that month or four people in that month. That amount doesn’t change.” They do not get an extra $100 or $500 to put someone in the Army. “Although,” he said, “I would enjoy that (with a slight chuckle).”
Basically a typical work week “as recruiters is to put out the Army story. To act like counselors in a sense for all our high school seniors, all the people who are attending colleges. And what I mean by our colleges is we’re assigned specific schools to actually recruit out of. So our job is to go out there and tell them what’s going on with the Army and explain the options out there for them. Our job is to help them with the paperwork if they decide to join. They’re ganna put themselves in the Army based on the knowledge they have now, the programs, and whether or not they want to take advantage of that. If they decide that they want to go further with that, we assist them with their paperwork. They go up and do their test and physical.” They do presentations at schools, community service, talk with important people in the area, and go out into the community with different events that they have.
“Our job is to put a face on the Army, especially in areas where there are no Army posts nearby where people live. And I will give you an example. In the southern states, like Alabama and Texas, there are posts everywhere. So it’s normal everyday routine for somebody to see a soldier walking down the street. It’s just part of the community; the post and the soldiers. Out here in Chicago, for instance, there is no post. So we are literally the face of the Army. We are the only military personnel out here. And because of that we hold ourselves to a higher standard to ensure that there is no negative light put on the Army because of our personal actions.”
They go above and beyond to help their soldiers out because “that’s a part of being a Noncommissioned Officer. One of our creeds is always place the mission and welfare of our soldiers first. The other part of what you have to do on a day to day basis is take care of soldiers regardless if they’re recruiters or people we put into the Army. A good [NCO] already has this ingrained in him or her anyway. Only because they want to take care of their soldiers; they want to make sure everybody’s taken care of. It becomes second nature. So when I say ‘have to’ I mean it’s ingrained in us; it’s already built into our psyche; it’s part of what makes the Army great, in my opinion, is the teamwork of it and the selfless service: putting others in front of yourself.” When describing a NCO he said they were “a leader, mentor, coach, trainer, all of the above.”
 in civilian terms a 12 Foxtrot
 NCO is the acronym used in the Army
(Part two will be continued tomorrow, June 28)