PENDLETON - The demand for a spot in the Oregon National Guard has gone up so much, the reserve soldier program has had to raise its standards of whom to admit.
And in eastern Oregon, where more than 40 percent of armed forces recruits pick the National Guard as their branch of service, the higher standard means fewer soldiers are being brought into its ranks.
The big change occurred two years ago, said Col. Alaine Encabo, the Oregon Guard's recruiting and retention commander.
"The bars are being set higher because there's a lot of interest in joining the Oregon National Guard and the National Guard throughout the country," Encabo said. "Everybody is now competing for less spaces. ... In a general mass of population, now only the best gets in."
Each person entering a branch of the military must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. It's like an SAT for the military.
Before, a recruit needed to score at least 31 percent on the test to get into the Oregon National Guard. Starting in 2009, Encabo said, that minimum raised to 50 percent.
Now, 78 percent of recruits score a 50 percent or higher on the test, compared with 64 percent scoring two years ago, said Sgt. Maj. Kevin Cutting, who works in the Salem recruiting office with Encabo.
Mainly high school grads
Also, the majority of the Guard's soldiers are high school graduates. Only about 10 percent hold General Education Development certificates. Three years ago, GED holders made up about 30 percent of recruits.
Cutting said he has seen other full- time military branches change their requirements on a month-to-month basis, depending on the numbers they need to bring in.
The Guard's criteria changed two years ago because it was "over strength," with too many enlisted, Cutting said.
The Oregon National Guard has 6,600 people, and technically that's still too many. Officially it only needs 6,400.
But Encabo said because the Oregon Guard is pulling in good-quality recruits, the national office is allowing the 200 extra.
Cutting said, "Retention is better in the last few years. People stay in the Guard because of the economic benefit."
On a more local level, Sgt. First Class Dan Agenbroad has seen his required recruiting numbers decrease. Agenbroad was a recruiter in Hermiston in 2006 and has since shifted his attention to Pendleton.
Two years ago he was required to recruit about 16 to 18 people a year. Now that number has dropped to 12.
"I try not to push. I try to recruit by talking to them individually," Agenbroad said. "I find out what they want to do in life and how they can benefit from the Guard."
Sometimes a person comes into the recruiting office and it's a "slam dunk." He or she scores well on the test and completes the physical requirements with no problem.
Sit-ups, push-ups required
But if someone does badly on the test, he or she can retake it. Physical requirements also can be worked on.
A man must complete 13 push-ups and 17 sit-ups, each in one minute, and run a mile in 8 minutes, 30 seconds.
A woman must complete three push-ups and 17 sit-ups and run a mile in 10 minutes, 30 seconds.
Agenbroad has gone so far as to work out with a potential recruit to get him or her in good enough shape to pass the test. He said he's had more trouble getting people to meet the height/weight requirement.
For instance, a 5- foot- 9 man must weigh at least 128 pounds and no more than 184 to 193 pounds, depending on his age.
Pendleton has a bit of hometown pride. With three units based here, the National Guard is a presence seen regularly in town.
Cutting has seen Pendleton's preference for the Guard in raw numbers.
The National Guard calculates a "market share" of its recruits around Oregon. That means for all the people recruited into the armed forces, a certain percent choose the National Guard.
Between October 2006 and July 2007, the years Cutting did the study, Pendleton had the highest market share in the state: 43 percent joined the National Guard. Hermiston followed with 41 percent; La Grande had 37 percent.
By comparison, Gresham had 18.8 percent join the Guard.
"Eastern Oregon is definitely Guard friendly," Cutting said.