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Alabama Guard Recruitment Up After Years of Decline

By Associated Press

Montgomery AL – On the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gov. Bob Riley welcomed recruits to the Alabama Army National Guard and celebrated the Guard's growth after years of decline.

"Your courage humbles us. And it also frightens those who attacked us on 9-11," Riley told the recruits Tuesday in a ceremony at the Capitol.

Fiscal 2006 marked the first year in more than a decade that the Alabama Army National Guard had more people entering than leaving. That positive trend is getting even better for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Guard officers said at the ceremony.

Col. Glenn Cottles, recruitment commander, said better recruiting bonuses and educational benefits have improved the numbers. He said the majority of the 27 recruits who participated in the ceremony Tuesday were getting the maximum $20,000 enlistment bonus.

Montgomery firefighter Adam Flint Batten of Elmore was one of them. "Money talks, like they say," said Batten, who's married with one child and three stepchildren.

At 29, Batten was older than most of the recruits. Batten said that he was attracted by the financial support and training the Guard offered, and he also wanted to serve the public beyond being a firefighter.

"I wanted to serve my country. People say that, but I really mean it," he said.

Amanda Patterson, a 17-year-old senior at Central High School in Hayneville, said she signed up because of her brother, who's in the Navy and served in Iraq, and because the Guard offered her a way to achieve her goal of going to Auburn University Montgomery.

"I want to go to college, and it will pay for college," she said.

In fiscal 2006, the Alabama Army National Guard reported 2,161 recruitments and 2,120 departures. The net gain of 41 was a turnaround from 2005, when the Guard recruited 1,603 but lost 2,313.

"This year is going to be a repeat of last year," Cottles said.

He said the Guard has recruited 1,900 of its 1,959 goal for the year and should end up with about 200 more enlistments than departures.

Of the recruits so far this year, more than 1,400 had no prior military service and the vast majority were ages 17 to 24. Less than 50 were over 30 years old, he said.

The recruits who joined Riley to mark the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks had taken the necessary steps to join earlier. But for the anniversary, they got to be front and center with Riley in an oath-taking ceremony complete with an honor guard and military band playing patriotic tunes.

Riley, the commander of the Alabama Guard, recalled that he was still serving in the U.S. House when the terrorist attacks occurred. He recounted walking out of his congressional office building to see the Pentagon on fire and wondering, like everyone else, what was going to happen next.

Since then, more than 13,000 Alabama Guardsmen have been activated for duty.

Riley told the recruits Tuesday they are "the embodiment of what's best about America."

The two-term governor said he is always moved when he visits Alabama Guardsmen who are on duty, no matter whether it's in the war or helping along the Alabama coast after a hurricane.

"I have never had more pride in the state of Alabama than when I visit our troops," he said.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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