Before future soldiers step foot in a recruiting station, they have thought about joining the military, recruiters said. The allure comes from movies, video games, toys, teachers or even relatives who have served, they said. Recruiters need to keep potential recruits enthusiastic while deflecting advice from others who say they shouldn’t enlist, said Lt. Col. Robert Kirkland, a professor of military science at Claremont McKenna College. “There are people that don’t want to serve, and there’s not any sort of enticement available that will change their minds,” Kirkland said. “But most recruiters realize there are people that are inclined and willing to check it out. Those are the ones who can be enticed with scholarships.” Recruiters will also sell whatever the military has to offer: adventure, enlistment bonuses, great retirement packages, vacation time, camaraderie, a chance to be a part of something bigger, career advancement, all-inclusive benefits, and even the food. The Army offers a signing bonus of up to $20,000 and up to $71,424 for college. Soft-spoken and floppy-haired Gus Punzo, 19, got his share of that money but said he enlisted recently because he is ready for change. A year out of Rowland High School, and he isn’t getting out of life what he thinks he could. He’s been pondering joining the Army since he first saw “Saving Private Ryan” when he was 12. Now, he is excited to serve, even if that means he has to go to Iraq. “If my country needs me, I will go there,” he said. Recruiters take any opportunity – at malls, colleges, high schools or sporting events – to weed out the uninterested to meet the goal of enlisting two people a month. “Do you want to join the Army?” Sgt. 1st Class Sean Patrick asked a waitress at Chili’s restaurant in West Covina. She said no and walked away. In the San Gabriel Valley, Army and Navy representatives also said they are hitting their targets, although they are more aggressive than in past years, Kirkland said. He has noticed an increase in recruiters and college scholarships available. According to available local numbers, recruiting numbers for the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy were the highest in Baldwin Park, West Covina and La Puente in 2001 and again in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. Since then, numbers have gradually declined, although the Marines have seen an increase in the area. In 2001, it recruited 127, and 153 in 2003. Azusa resident Ruby Valdes, 25, expects to enlist in the Marines by the end of the month. “The thought has always been in the back of my mind since high school,” said Valdes, who works as a paint technician at a body shop. “I’m a hands-on person, and the Marines best fits my personality.” Army Staff Sgt. Jason Schreck said he is among the rare breed of soldiers who joined to be in combat, and one of the most common questions he gets asked is if they will have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. “I tell them there is a good chance,” he said. Recruiters also have to deal with the daily images of carnage and death. There have been 3,561 deaths and 25,173 wounded as of March 13, according to the Department of Defense. “There is more of a chance dying on a California freeway than going to Iraq,” Patrick said. The California Highway Patrol reported 3,907 deaths on California’s roadways in 2006. “You have to be afraid of death to not want to go Iraq,” Punzo said, “and I’m not.” He’s not the only one. Sgt. Thomas McConnell of Lancaster was among the nearly 600 soldiers at the farewell ceremony for the California Army National Guard on March 4. They were heading to Mississippi on March 7 for three months of training before deploying to Iraq. McConnell said he wanted to join the military since he was a child, and enlisted in 1989. He was deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, as well as to Egypt, Afghanistan and Kuwait. “I’ve always loved the military and I love serving my country,” McConnell said. At the ceremony, pregnant wives asked for prayers. Mothers hugged their sons, telling them to come home safe. Fathers told their sons that they were proud of them. firstname.lastname@example.org (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! • Video: Farewell Ceremony Two elementary school boys, one dressed in a camouflage shirt, darted toward the sandbox recently in the Army recruiting office at the Westfield mall in West Covina. One of the them picked up a toy tank. “Is this real?” he asked the other boy as they began to play with the toys. Sgt. Charles Pulliam, wearing his Army uniform and combat boots, looked at the boys and confidently uttered a prediction: “At least one of them will end up joining the Army,” he said. The military is meeting its recruiting goals, despite polls showing a growing anti-war sentiment on the eve the fourth anniversary the Iraq War and the president’s request for an additional 29,500 troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The California Army National Guard in 2006 exceeded the recruiting goal of 3,371 by 163. This was the first year since 1996 that California exceeded its goal, according to 2nd Lt. Scott Ghiranghelli. “We have every expectation of enlisting similar numbers in federal fiscal year 2007, although we are currently feeling the after-effects of the mid-term elections,” Maj. Gregory Potter said.