Call Of Duty In San Diego, Texas

<B>Vicki Mabrey</B> Visits Small Town That Has Sent 30 Soldiers Off To War

With the war in Iraq well into its third year, and 138,000 U.S. troops still on the ground there, it has become an urgent problem for the military to find enough fresh recruits to carry on the fight.

Both the Army and the Marine Corps have fallen short of their recruiting goals, and signing up new soldiers has become a challenge, even in places that have always been sure bets for military recruiters, places like San Diego, Texas, population 4,700, where tradition runs deep.

San Diego has already sent more than 30 soldiers off to the Iraq war, Correspondent Vicki Mabrey reports.

At the trophy case at San Diego High School, English teacher Connie Alvarado showed 60 Minutes pictures of former students sent to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. She taught most of them.

"It's a very close community, and we hear all the time from the parents," says Alvarado.

Everybody knows everybody in San Diego, Texas. And when the Vaqueros, Spanish for cowboys, take the field, nearly everyone in town turns out to cheer them on.

But despite all the excitement beneath the Friday night lights, San Diego is a very poor community. The average family income is half the national average, and about a third of the people live below the poverty line.

They measure wealth here in "Family, God and Country." At the Catholic Church in the center of town, Sunday services are standing room only. And San Diego's soldiers are on everybody's mind.

"San Diego, like most of the communities in this area, has a long tradition of service in the military. And it's something that we're very proud of," says Ignacio Salinas, the grade-school principal in San Diego who's also served in the Texas State Legislature.

"There are no jobs here other than the oil industry, and that's very shaky," says Salinas. "And then if you work for one of the government entities, and there are not that many jobs around for that."

He says the kids pretty much have to leave.

"Finances are very scarce for parents to send their kids to school," says Salinas. "And so, for a kid whose parents are not able to send them financially, the military has always been a viable option to get funding to go to school."

Salinas says the recruiters come to San Diego.

High school seniors Yvonne Vidal, Robert Garcia and Zyda Gonzalez say they all want to go to college and have careers, but the annual job fair at school was limited, to say the least.

They said mostly military recruiters show up at career day: "They hunt you down."

The military says it doesn't target small towns more than others, but with signs on the highway, well-stocked racks in the schools, and phone calls at home, kids there say they're bombarded with military marketing.

"They know that we don't have that many options and that a lot of us will choose the Army, the Marines, or the Air Force, so we can get out of a little town and go somewhere different," says Garcia.

"Our job is to find qualified men and women to enlist into the Army," says Sgt. First Class Abel Garza, one of four Army recruiters on the lookout for fresh faces in San Diego and 11 other rural towns in his territory.

"We're a big employer, if you want to look at it that way. We have opportunities that other employers throughout the United States don't offer somebody straight out of high school," says Garza. "Even a person graduating from college nowadays has a hard time finding a job."

But he says his job has gotten a lot harder since the war began. He works 12-hour days, usually spending about three hours on the telephone.

Tracking kids down is easier, thanks to a little-known section of the "No Child Left Behind Act," which requires high schools to give recruiters home phone numbers for all juniors and seniors unless parents write a letter opting out.

Garza says they are actually using the list. His pitch is part patriotism, part cash and a lot of it. There is up to $20,000 in signing bonuses and up to $70,000 for college.

"If they're going to college around here, it pays for their school," says Garza. "They have 100 percent tuition assistance."

"Are these kids primarily signing up because they're going to get the benefits?" asks Mabrey.

"I think that's some of the reason," says Garza. "But a lot of these kids, when they come back from their training and their duty stations, they're honored to be in the Army."

Most of Garza's new recruits end up in the 887th Quartermaster Company of the Army Reserves. The unit has been to Iraq once already, and was getting ready for a second tour when 60 Minutes stopped by. Asked why he signed on the dotted line, one recruit said he used his signing bonus to pay for his college debt. Another recruit said signing up helped pay for college. And a third recruit came from a family who has served in the military and retired.