The Marines in Hyattsville are finding more than a few good men--and women. Aided by the overall economic decline and drawing on one of the country's largest concentrations of college students -- who, increasingly, want guaranteed jobs -- the regional Marine officer selection office in Hyattsville is currently one of the top Marine recruiting offices in the country, Marine officials say.
The office has signed up more officer candidates than any other Marine office in a nine-state district, easily meeting its annual quota of 98 officers in recent years, the officials said. They add that 85 percent of the candidates from the Hyattsville office go on to become Marine officers, who account for about 18,900 of the 193,700-person Marine force.
"College graduates are not as picky as in the past when they look for jobs," said Staff Sgt. R. L. Vinson, who is one of the recruiting officers in the Hyattsville office. "If they're still interested after OCS [Officer Candidate School], we offer them a starting salary of $19,000 when they become an officer."
The Hyattsville facility, on the third floor of the Presidential Building near Prince George's Plaza, recruits from 68 colleges, from southern Delaware to West Virginia.
Each Marine recruiting office has a quota to fill, which the corps calls its recruiting "mission." In fiscal 1982, the Hyattsville office filled its quota in part with three women, 18 minority-group candidates, 44 applicants for aviator training and five lawyers. The quota for women is low because the Marine Corps is nearly 100 percent combat-oriented and federal law prohibits women from combat duty, Vinson said.
Lawyers are recruited to fill military judge advocate positions. The other candidates will train as ground officers for such work as electronics or infantry, the branch currently being sent to Lebanon.
A candidate refused entry because of a filled quota is asked to reapply for the next class. If they reapply, "chances are very good they'll get in," said Vinson.
Vinson said he has had so many applicants this year that the OCS class starting next month was filled by mid-August; additional candidates will have to wait until February or June.
One new candidate, Kevin Foley, 21, says the starting salary of new officers helped persuade him to join. The Hyattsville resident, vice president of Semper Fidelis, the local fraternity of Marine officer candidates, supported himself as a student at the University of Maryland during the past two years by working 40 hours a week as a garage manager. He plans to graduate with a law enforcement degree in May.
"Many graduates will have to pump out their resumes when they graduate, while I'm set for a job that will pay me almost $19,000 a year," Foley said. "The Marines will open some doors for me for law enforcement jobs in federal branches. For example, the FBI requires three years of practical experience or military service."
"If I didn't join the Marines, I would look for a sales job paying $16,000 to $18,000 a year," said University Park resident Dave Fields. "But as a Marine officer I will be starting out making close to $20,000 a year." Fields, who plans to graduate from Maryland in December with a marketing degree, is the president of Semper Fidelis. "I like the patriotic bit of the Marines, but the job security is just as important. If the economy gets bad, the Marines don't stop hiring."
The Marine Corps is not the only military service taking advantage of a struggling economy and a fertile recruiting area. Lt. Cmdr. Mary Humphreys of the Navy's Washington recruitment branch, which has an office on the same floor of the Presidential Building, describes her district as one of the best in the country for minority officer recruiting.
Vinson maintains that the average Marine candidate is looking for "something a lot tougher than is offered in the other branches of the military. We are very honest with them.
"We tell them they're getting a stronger challenge than in the Army or Navy and that they're going to go through pure hell to get their second lieutenants' bars.
"Then we ask them why they aren't interested in joining the other branches, and if they don't give us a good answer, we tell them to go around the corner to the Navy or Army recruiting office."
Male Marine officer candidates have four options. Among them are the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) for college-bound high school students, who receive financial assistance for college, and platoon leaders class, two six-week training sessions of boot camp for college freshmen, sophomores and juniors and a 10-week session for seniors.
Men can also opt for officer candidates' class, precommission training for college seniors and graduates, or the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Naval Academy graduates may choose between becoming a Navy ensign or a Marine Corps second lieutenant.
All female Marine officer candidates, who must be college juniors, seniors or graduates, join the women officer candidates' program. The women train in a separate program. Once they become officers, they take on non-combat duties ranging from flight technicians to office clerks. Candidates in all levels of officer training are trained at the Marine base in Quantico, Va.
Candidates who have completed any of the five programs and who have received a college degree are commissioned as second lieutenants. They then join basic school for 21 weeks of instruction in leadership, military technique, marksmanship, map reading, communications, infantry tactics, infantry weapons and supporting arms, field engineering and other Marine Corps techniques and strategies.
"Many people don't know how to be a Marine," said Vinson. "There's a certain mystique. Many people think you just have to be big and strong and not use your mind. That's wrong.
"Ninety percent of our enlisted men are high-school graduates and our officers must graduate [from college] before they are commissioned."
Second Lt. Todd Hixson, 22, a Colesville resident who was one of those recruited in 1979 through the Hyattsville office, said he chose the Marines because "it's a more disciplined service, and the camaraderie amongst the men is better." Hixson chose to get a degree in political science at Catholic University on a track scholarship before entering the corps.
"I also felt the Marines would motivate me more to see what I could do as an officer than any other branch of the service," he said. "I like the challenge of controlling a rifle platoon of 40 men and making sure they're mentally and physically ready. I think I can do it."
Hixson says the worst part of being a marine -- "the mental and physical stress during OCS" -- is over.
"The Marines have made me feel very responsible," he added. "I feel I'm committed to a cause and contributing to my country."
"We train our candidates to be whole men, for discipline, physical fitness, and to be able to make a decision under pressure," said Vinson, who recruited Hixon. "They must be able to think quick during combat."
"When the candidates enter OCS, they go through a culture shock. We never give them enough time to do what they must. We train them to be prepared for anything. For example, if they go to the Philippines and see kids swimming in water with crap floating in it or sludge on walls, they're shocked. They have to tolerate that shock."
Second Lt. Ray Fournier, 22, from Burtonsville, who was also recruited through the Hyattsville office two years ago, said he joined the Marines because of its job appeal. A law enforcement graduate of the University of Maryland, he said he didn't want a 9-to-5 office job.
"The chance to fly planes, the adventure, and the crazy training the Marines offer appealed to me," he said. "The Marines have made me a lot more mature and a lot more aware of life."
Fournier was enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program at Maryland, but says he chose the Marines because the Air Force "has more flyers than planes, while the Marines are in more demand for flyers. The possibility of being a pilot in the Marines is better."
He said the Marines also offer a bigger challenge: "A candidate must really want the Marines," he contended. "They want the quality, not the quantity. The Army, for example, is a . . . huge, disorganized mob.
"The Marines prepared me better than any other service could. I don't think anyone is fully prepared to handle war, but I'm sure the Marines have done the best to prepare me. . . . I wouldn't want a war to start, but if it does, I'll be there."