PUBLISHED: 5:17 PM on Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Generation Army
Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series focussing onmilitary in Southeast Alaska.Part two will run May 7.

On what seemed to be a normal Tuesday morning more than six and a half years ago, Ryan Wetherell rolled out of bed and turned on the television. But what he saw - footage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks continuously replayed in loops - has remained etched in his memory since.

photo by Charles Westmoreland/ Cover by Anna Millard
  Ryan Wetherell, left, a 19-year-old from Juneau who departs for Army basic training later this month, trains with his recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Zulauf.
"I knew somehow my life was going to change after watching that," said the 19-year-old from Juneau. "It was mind-boggling realizing we weren't that safe. I remember thinking at the time that this would be a defining moment of my generation."And defining it was. Wetherell was just 12-years-old when he watched the terrorist attacks unfold and is joined by millions of other young Americans who grew up in a nation at war - some of which vaguely remember peacetime. But Wetherell, along with thousands of other young men and women, are coming of age and enlisting in the Armed Forces themselves.

Former Army Sgt. Maj. Jack Tilley once referred to the United States' mission in Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks as "Generation X's rights of passage." As more Gen. Xers retire and leave service, the torch is now being passed to Generation Y, often referred to as "millennials," which includes Southeast Alaskans like Wetherell and Sitka's Ivan Radtke. Both men have signed the dotted line and will become part of the new generation of soldiers.

Wetherell will leave his Douglas Island abode to begin a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army as a signal collector and analyst in two weeks.

"I love my country and I want to serve," he said. "As an able-bodied person, I feel it is something I should do."

Southeast Veteran

population by region

Haines - 334

Juneau - 2,530

Ketchikan Gateway - 1,637

Prince of Wales - 704

Sitka - 945

Skagway, Hoonah, Angoon - 343

Wrangell, Petersburg - 833

Yakutak - 96

*Information provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs

Wetherell said he also is enlisting for the job training, which he hopes will lead to opportunities with federal and state positions down the road.

For Radtke, a 17-year-old senior expecting to graduate from Mount Edgecumbe High School in May, military service is a family tradition. Radtke's father was an Army Ranger and his grandfather served in the Air Force. Radtke will train as a combat engineer and then head to airborne school.

"For me, it's a legacy," he said. "My entire family has been in the military. I've been wanting to join since I was six-years-old."

Wetherell also comes from a military background. Both his parents served in the Navy and his father, Roger, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The two youths aren't alone in having a military heritage. Alaska boasts one of the highest numbers of veterans in the United States per capita with about nine percent having served in the military. Of the state's nearly 75,000 veterans, about 10 percent reside in Southeast Alaska.

Charles Westmoreland photo
  Sgt. 1st Class Lane Goldfarb, an Army recruiter based in Juneau, works at his desk.
Sgt. 1st Class Lane Goldfarb, 39, a recruiter stationed in Juneau who covers all of Southeast from Yakutat to Prince of Wales, said the dense veteran population in Southeast means interested youths are usually familiar with the military before they walk through his door.

Goldfarb has served full-time as a recruiter for nine years and said he has noticed a difference in the mentality of youths wanting to enlist since 9/11.

"With the folks we see now, the majority of them will come in and they want to join the Army because they want to serve their country and join soldiers overseas, whether it be in Germany, Korea or Iraq," he said. "I did very well recruiting in the late 1990s and 2000 because I talked about my experiences, but the difference back then was you didn't have as much of the patriotism and after 9/11 things changed a bit."

One of the changes, he said, is some recruits saying they wanted to be deployed.

"The first thing I tell (potential recruits) is that in America's Army our job is to provide defense ... for the nation and one thing we have to understand is that no matter what's going on in the world, whether it's in the United States or overseas, part of it means you might be deployed," he said. "It doesn't guarantee that a person will be deployed, though. Nine out of 10 have a great reaction and say they understand that and say they'll accept whatever the Army asks of them. They know its part of what the Army does."

Radtke is one of the recruits who is anxious to serve overseas.

"I hope the chances (to be deployed) are high," he said. "I've never liked just standing around. I'm pretty anxious to go."

Wetherell said he also understands the possibility of deployment but is mentally preparing himself for what may lie ahead.

"It's important to understand when you sign up that is a possibility, especially during war-time," he said. "I'm becoming more comfortable with it."

Not all enlistees will necessarily be deployed to war zones. Goldfarb, for example, has served in overseas assignments but never in a combat zone during his career.

One of the benefits of the millennial generation serving in the Army, Goldfarb said, is they are better prepared to be part of a digital military.

"The Army is computerized now," he said. "When I first enlisted in 1987 we were changing over. Now everything is computer automated. Kids today are getting more experience with computers and are better prepared. They have a leg-up because they pick up the knowledge quicker than when I came in."

Even though millenials have the technological savvy needed in today's Army, fewer and fewer are becoming eligible for service because of physical fitness requirements.

According to Department of the Army data, in 2007 only 4.7 million youths ages 17-24 out of 31.2 million met the requirements for service. With only 15 percent of youths meeting the educational and physical requirements, the Army is trying harder than ever to entice the eligible population. For recruiters like Goldfarb, who have a quota to meet and strict recruiting guidelines to follow, the job is about to get harder.

Congress recently decided to increase the Army's one million soldier force by adding 40,000 more soldiers by 2010 to fulfill overseas commitments, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One aspect that could help the Army meet that goal, said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Zulauf, a Southeast Alaska recruiter, is increased retention rates. He said the Army surpassed its goal last year with 108 percent retention.

As the Army strives to meet its new goals, two of its newest recruits from Southeast will continue to prepare for their upcoming departure from Alaska.

"I'll miss everything back here," Wetherell said. "I'm sure there will be times when I remember some little thing at home and get a little homesick."

Said Radtke: "I'm doing something I believe in. America needs people who are willing to serve, and that's what my family has always done."