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Army Guard Refilling Its Ranks

Pfc. Donald McClelland, foreground, works on his marching supervised by Sgt. 1st Class Derek Ford, right, at the National Guard armory in Williamstown, W.Va.
Pfc. Donald McClelland, foreground, works on his marching supervised by Sgt. 1st Class Derek Ford, right, at the National Guard armory in Williamstown, W.Va. (By Kate Robertson For The Washington Post)

"You won't see Guard recruiters going down to these places," said Edwards, driving along a gravel road to call on a concrete factory beside a canal of the Ohio River.

Edwards, who said he got his job selling tires with the help of his Guard "network," is now leveraging his business contacts to sell the Guard. He was "tracking" six more potential recruits.

Down the road at Contract Mail Trucking in Mineral Wells, W.Va., Edwards helped Nathaniel Morgan, 19, make a repair. Attracted by college benefits and pride in service, Morgan signed up with the Guard last month after Edwards encouraged him to join despite his mother's reservations. "I had to kind of play the role of big brother," Edwards said.

Morgan will go to boot camp in September and fully expects to be deployed overseas -- reflecting what Guard officials say is a growing acceptance of the Guard's relatively new role -- but he feels assured in knowing people in his unit. "You're in good company with people like Clay, people you know," he said.

Visiting another customer, a trucking company in Sandyville, W.Va., Edwards checked in on mechanic Doug Cooper. Cooper, 32, has worked at the firm since he was 13, fixing and loading 18-wheelers.

"I was out poking around about another job, and Clay come in," said Cooper, who recalled Edwards immediately handing him a bunch of Guard brochures. Cooper agreed to take the qualification test and passed with a high score.

"I'm about 99 percent sure I'm going," he said. "Clay hasn't been overzealous. He hasn't been trying to sweet-talk me." Instead, Edwards spoke of the Guard as a way for Cooper to expand his horizons.

Cooper pointed to a streak on the wall left by creek water that flooded his shop in 1998, recalling how Guard members helped clear away debris. "That just tickled me that someone was here to help," he said. "That's what I'm after . . . to feel I'm contributing."


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