With the United States Army’s 244th birthday on Friday, June 14, an Asian American sergeant in Southern California reflects on her time in service.
Sgt. Min Na, a Korean American recruiter in Rowland Heights, California, recalls seeking a “new beginning” that involved becoming healthier and more active that then led to her decision to join the Army at 22 back in 2010.
Within a week later, Na was officially enlisted and went through a smooth transition, which she credits with finding a recruiter who was informative and walked her through every step of the way.
“The main goal was to travel since I never had been out of the country,” Na recounted. Her first duty station was Korea, where her parents are originally from. That was followed by eight months in Hawaii and Washington. After a few years in service, Na realized that she wanted to go back to school so she enlisted in the Army Reserve.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, members who began their service after Sept. 10, 2001 can earn full tuition to the college for their choice for up to 36 months, plus a monthly housing allowance and a books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year.
“We think that there’s this cookie cutter image that after high school, we have to go to college. Education is always important, but there are different ways to approach that,” Na said.
Na received a certificate in surgical technology, which allowed her to work inside operating rooms alongside surgeons.
Another opportunity came last year to become a recruiter, which Na saw as a way to move back to California. Now, four months on the job, Na said it’s about “getting my face and the Army’s message out there.”
For the U.S. Army, there are about 33.4 million Americans between the ages of 17 to 24, the ideal group it is targeting for recruitment. But of that number, only 9.7 million are qualified, while 136,000 are even interested in joining, according to a report by the Army Times.
The requirements to enlist in the Army include being between 17 and 34 years old, a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, have a high school diploma or equivalent, score at least a 33 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, and meet height and weight requirements, among others.
There are many misconceptions about Army service, such as the major one about how enlisting means automatically being put on the battlefield and being ready to fight in a war.
Recruiters like Na make it their mission to debunk those myths and harp on the benefits that go with service, from educational benefits to job opportunities beyond combat.
“A lot of kids, when they think of the Army, they think of Call of Duty or war movies. We try to get that image out of their heads. It’s more than combat experience. The Army has really good programs and benefits to help them, so that’s what we try to do,” Na said. “The Army is the only branch where you can actually choose a career path. We have everything from photographers, designers, or mechanics.”
Another misconception is that people in the Army wear their uniform 24/7. “We tell them that it’s like a normal job and we have our freedom to change after,” Na added.
With Asian American groups making up about 50% of Rowland Heights (6% of which are Filipino), the Army’s recruiters in that location make it a point to reach out to the community and get a pulse of what benefits they are looking for.
On a typical day, Na and her fellow recruiters have daily meetings about what methods have been working well in the area, which include going to local schools, community events and door-to-door at local businesses.
One of the key drivers for Asian recruitment is also a pathway to U.S. citizenship, Na said.
“I go to a lot of schools that are predominantly Asian…and I see a lot of green card holders who are not aware that the Army can help with citizenship within three months,” she said. “By the time they finish boot camp, which is nine weeks, they could be citizens. Becoming a citizen is now a long process so this is the quickest way. I’ve been trying to promote and get that information out there.”
Beyond common benefits, however, Na said personal development and character building will last a lifetime.
“I always had issues with public speaking. That was like one of my fears. But now as a recruiter, I have to randomly go up to a person and start a conversation. You grow and learn different techniques. I’m still learning but it’s gotten a lot easier,” she said.
Though she was not ready to go to college when she first joined the Army, it’s never too late. Na is currently in school for her bachelor’s degree.
“My goal is to go as far as I can. I really want to be one of the best recruiters and try to change as many lives as possible,” she said.
Sgt. Min Na can be contacted at the Rowland Heights Recruiting Station (1600 S. Azusa Ave., City of Industry, CA 91748) by phone at (626) 965-0239 or on Instagram @Army_Sgt_Na.