EVERY YEAR during Fleet Week, Navy and Army recruiters set up huge interactive attractions in a parking lot across from the carnival games in Waterfront Village. After reporting on Portland's documented spike in crime during Fleet Week ["Heat Week," News, May 27], I stopped by on Saturday, June 5, to hear the Army/Navy pitch.
Inside a gleaming semi trailer, I sat down at a computer to click through a "career-explorer website" called Life Accelerator v3.0. After filling out a questionnaire about my likes, dislikes, and educational history, the software told me how I could seek "fun, adventure, and travel as an officer."
"You might stay in a beachfront condominium, where you could go surfing, snorkeling, or scuba diving right outside your front door. Then again, maybe you'd have a boat," said the encouraging computer.
Outside, a sailor in whites who identified himself as "SW1 Hunter" (SW meaning Steelworker) passed out free water bottles, wristbands, and tote bags to sweaty families. An SUV parked next to him featured a videogame station where would-be recruits could play Guitar Hero.
"We get to play videogames all the time in the Navy," he explained. "There's one of those stations on almost every ship."
Hunter said he'd never been in a combat situation: "We don't do that, that's the Marines."
Next, I strapped on a climbing harness and prepared to race another young guy up a two-story-high rope net. This was designed to simulate the fitness test that Navy SEAL candidates face. Before I could climb, I had to fill out a waiver with my name and address. Just above the signature area was a small checkbox to request more information about service in the Navy. I checked it.
I lost the rope race by a long shot, so I did 25 penalty push-ups and headed over to the Army trailer, where the information-gathering tactics were even stealthier. I had to sign another waiver and check more boxes to gain access to first-person shooting games and helicopter combat simulators.
A soldier in fatigues offered to make me a dog tag while I waited. Before I realized it, I had given him my Social Security number, blood type, and religious preference.
Navy spokesperson Anthony Popp says that recruiters rent the lot from City Center Parking during Fleet Week every year. "At any military event, recruiting is a key component," he says.
We'll see what shows up in my mailbox.