June 7, 2004
Kellen Hunt is an unlikely pacifist.
After all, he supports the war in Iraq.
But to Hunt, 18, a recent Cactus Shadows High School graduate who lives in Cave Creek and performs as a solo rock act in Valley coffeehouses, finding a path to peace is not "black or white."
What he does know is that he will never join the military. "In my opinion, I think they’re serving a good cause, certainly," Hunt said. "I’m a personal pacifist myself. But I think if we pulled out we’d be worse off than if we stayed in. In a world where we have so much violence, there’s not a lot of other ways to deal with it."
Kevin Cheng, 17, who will be a senior at Chandler High School in the fall, disagrees with Hunt about the war. He says many soldiers are forced to fight a war they don’t believe in.
"We should take care of Americans first," he said.
But Cheng himself said he hopes to join the Marine Corps after he graduates from college — and possibly endure a battle he doesn’t support.
"If you want to be a soldier, you have to understand you can’t pick where you want to go," he said.
The armed forces are generally seeing an increased interest in patriotism and joining the military — but the numbers who actually join have remained stable since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Steven Hesterman, an Air Force recruiter in Tempe, said his office gets more calls of interest than before. But most don’t go through with it.
"There has not been an increase in people actually joining," Hesterman said. "Patriotism is why they get the interest. But they probably get a little bit of cold feet at the same time. They want to do their part, and then they back off."
Col. Gary Jones, who teaches at Chandler High, said he has not noticed an increase, either. But the ROTC does not promote joining the military, he said.
He said while many young people are feeling patriotic in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the reality of dying in war is sobering.
"It’s a more serious commitment than it has been in the past 10 to 15 years," Jones said. "Certain people are just inclined to go into the military because of either a family member, or the history and tradition of a family, or because of the benefits gained by joining."
Phoenix spokeswoman Nancy Hutchison said that the Army has also seen no change in interest since the attacks. However, some have feared a recent controversy involving abuse of Iraqi prisoners could hurt recruitment.
"We thought maybe the recent events with the prison might have impacted us," she said. "But it’s way too soon to see that for us."
Jud Seal just graduated from Chandler’s Hamilton High School and is enlisting in the Marines.
His brother, Jonathan, is already in training after graduating early in December.
Jud Seal said it was a mix of patriotism and career planning that made him choose the Marines after watching his brother complete basic training.
"After seeing my brother go in, I thought it was a really honorable thing to do, to help my country out," he said. "There are all kinds of really cool stuff you can do, stuff you can only be able to do in the armed forces."
While he said he hopes he is not sent to Iraq or a wartorn region when he becomes a reservist, he is looking forward to returning from Marine training for a highsalary mechanic’s job.
Their friend Erik Johnson, 18, plans to become a mechanic. He said he could have joined the Marines himself — except that would have placed him on the front lines.
"If you want to be a mechanic in the Marines, you have to be in the calvaries and the front lines pretty much," he said.
Students from Cave Creek to Chandler are discussing the armed forces, as the war is a daily news topic.
"A lot more people are becoming disillusioned," said Kelly Benson, 18, who just graduated from Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School.
"To tell you the truth, in the beginning a lot were all fired up to protect our country," she said. "Now they’re starting to stop and question what the hell are we fighting for.
"I do believe in defending our country," she said. "And it’s worth dying to protect a worthy cause. But this seems a war for personal gain."
Hunt recommends that teenagers investigate the war themselves before making any decisions, rather than following the crowd.
"I think overall, everyone just kind of follows," he said. "There’s not a lot of strong personal points of view, in my opinion."
In hopes of changing that, he and his Scottsdale-area friends have written songs about the government, he said.
Cheng’s friends Amber Gaskill and Jonathan Markey, both 16, also plan to join the Marines.
They say that news coverage that focuses on military deaths and bombings can scare some away from the profession.
"I think that changes their mind — it scares them," Markey said.
Gaskill said she has always wanted to join the military, but her desire increased in light of the terrorist attacks.
"The question is — is it worth it?" she asked. "Everyone has a different answer."