WASHINGTON -- Even though death threats were common in Iraq during the mid-2000s, the scare tactic still left M. Sayer a bit unnerved while he worked as a linguist for the U.S. military.
“I came home one day and someone left a bullet inside an envelope in my mailbox,” Sayer recalled.
It was an eye-opening experience for Sayer, but it failed to intimidate him for long. The act sparked a change in the young Iraqi and instead of hiding he found a new way to serve in something he believed in.
Shortly after, he applied for an American visa to enroll in college in Florida, where he now studies at Tampa University. He also became an ROTC cadet who hopes to serve as an Army officer in the military police.
The Army continues to search for talented individuals, like Sayer, to fill its officer ranks. To help its cause, recruiters plan to carry out another mass recruiting drive starting Monday through June 14 to add future officers and enlisted Soldiers to its pool of talent.
During hundreds of virtual hiring fairs, potential recruits nationwide will have the opportunity for one-on-one meetings with recruiters and can learn about signing bonuses of up to $40,000 or student loan reimbursements of up to $65,000. Recruiters will also discuss health insurance, tuition assistance and retirement plans.
The hiring campaign, first launched last year, will also offer a $2,000 bonus for individuals who enlist during the five-week event in one of 11 priority occupations and ship to training by the end of September.
Priority career fields include infantry, psychological operations, explosives ordnance disposal and air and missile defense.
Other critical roles needed are health care professionals, said Maj. Britain Seaburn, officer in charge at the U.S. Army Medical Recruiting–Louisville office in Kentucky.
Those fields include doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and more, he said. Many positions come with a variety of associated incentives, like signing bonuses, student loan repayment, and an assortment of scholarships for medical, dental, or veterinary school.
“Many people don’t realize that we have medical professionals in the Army and the incentives that are available to them,” he said, regarding the biggest hurdle in finding talent.
“[The public] just lacks knowledge and familiarity,” he added. “The Army can train people, pay for them to get through training, like through scholarship programs to achieve the credentialing as a [medical] provider.”
Seaburn was one of those people. Before commissioning, he attended Missouri State University where he studied dietetics. The would-be dietitian needed an internship to complete the graduate program. Unfortunately, most internships offered very little incentives beyond experience.
“Then I came across an internship called the graduate program in nutrition through the Army,” he said.
The program offers students a chance to commission into the Army health care team, he said, where they both serve in uniform and develop skills needed for their medical careers.
“I wanted to go into an internship where I could be paid, because that is rare,” Seaburn said. “I also liked the opportunity to complete my master’s degree with an internship. These were both things I wanted to do and with the Army I did both -- I got paid and I got the schooling for free.”
Besides checking the boxes on his career, the Army also “allowed me to move away from Missouri,” the Springfield native said. “My wife and I are adventurous people and wanted to explore the world.”
Over a decade later, the roles are now reversed. Since 2019, Seaburn has been the one helping college students and medical professionals forge paths in the Army.
“I volunteered in my current role so I could pass goodwill and favor onto others,” he said. “Our job as recruiters is to get out there, share our message with as many people regardless of what their circumstances are, and to help them take advantage of these opportunities.”
One officer who made the most of the Army’s college programs is 2nd Lt. Jillian Woody, a medical service corps officer with the Army California National Guard.
Woody learned of the myriad of opportunities offered through Army service while studying at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, where she majored in kinesiology and exercise science.
“I chose the [National Guard] over the other components because I liked how mobile it is,” Woody said. “The Guard is the first to respond to any state and nationwide emergency, and since I joined in May of 2019, I have had one state and one federal activation.
“I've just had so much experience, and I have been challenged in ways I cannot really explain. So the Guard has really come alongside me in my journey.”
The first step in Woody’s journey started with the Army’s medical programs offered to college students -- the same ones Seaburn once took advantage of as well.
There are multiple medical fields in the Army. Woody joined the medical specialist corps, which includes fields like occupational therapy, physical therapy, dieticians, and more.
The Army also has a nurse corps, filled with nurses of all specialties. “We have nurse practitioners, like family and psychiatric [nurses], critical care nurses, perioperative nurses, and more,” Seaburn said.
These opportunities and programs extend to all Army components. In the Army Reserve, for instance, Seaburn has noticed many newly-minted officers commission after already being fully-qualified physicians well into their civilian careers.
“It can be very enticing for many physicians, because it gives them a sense of purpose to serve their country,” he said. “Many physicians get involved in humanitarian missions [in the Army] outside of their civilian careers.”
However, Reserve Soldiers are not all seasoned health care workers. Many benefit from the college programs, too, he said.
“We bring somewhere between 80 to 100 future dentists through our [schooling] program,” Seaburn said. “So again, the Army is paying for their dental school, and then they are coming in to serve their active-duty obligation after that.”
Many college students, like Woody and Sayer, commission through ROTC scholarships.
Now a senior in college, Sayer said he has had no regrets on coming to the United States from Iraq.
Growing up, the cadet taught himself English through American television shows, and later worked as a linguist with both the Army and Marine military police.
Sayer grew up in a normal family life in Iraq, he said. But outside of his house, war waged all around. Although working with the military police was fulfilling to him, it upset others in his community.
His first job was to help Soldiers and Marines reestablish local police forces in Fallujah and Ramadi. He was assigned to three police stations, where they helped with recruiting, payroll paperwork, and other essential tasks necessary, he said.
From there, he bounced around wherever he was needed. “I was moving from one unit to another. Most of the units were on a short period of deployment,” he said.
In 2009, while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division for a year, Sayer got another taste of what being in the Army could be like, he said. The role was rewarding and he felt like his job made a difference.
“The time I worked [as a linguist] kept me on track, in a way saved my life, and made me goal-oriented and allowed me to [accomplish] many goals in my life,” he said.
On a special immigrant visa, Sayer came to the United States and enrolled in college as a ROTC cadet. After commissioning, he hopes to be a leader in the same field that started his journey -- military police.
“The [ROTC] program pushes you to your limit,” he said. “It’s not just kicking in doors and having guns, the program pushes us beyond our physical comfort zone.”
With each challenge, whether at home or in college, Sayer tells himself, “Mentally, I can do this. If I put my head to it, I can do it,” he said.
And it’s that kind of can-do attitude recruiters look to find in future Soldiers.
“Whenever you can assist someone in the process to make it a life-changing effect on them, that is the most rewarding thing to me,” Seaburn said. “We’re trying to share the information to allow everyone to take advantage of what the Army can offer them.”
Potential officers can visit www.goarmy.com/hiringdays to learn more about the part-time and full-time careers offered by the Army, qualifications and to connect with a local recruiter.