Army recruiting center leader SFC. Oneil Findlay is pictured at the Army Career Center on Gramatan Avenue in Mount Vernon, March 7, 2017. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)
MOUNT VERNON — Gramatan Avenue is packed as drivers angle for parking in front of local shops and students hauling backpacks run down the street, munching on snacks and drinking soda.
Inside one storefront, however, the atmosphere is far more quiet as people consider whether to make a life-changing decision.
Michael Marrero, 29, of Mamaroneck, works for Consolidated Edison in construction, but wants more opportunities and, maybe, some adventure. That’s what brought Marrero, a college graduate in psychology from SUNY Old Westbury, to the U.S. Army Recruiting Office on this day.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Marrero said, sitting at a desk talking to an Army recruiter. Right now, he said, his career is “not exactly the most exciting job in the world.”
The recruiter, Sgt. First-Class Latoya Descartes, took Marrero through the paperwork, answering his questions with enthusiasm and a smile. Originally from Jamaica before settling in San Diego, Descartes rotated to the Mount Vernon center four months ago.
Sgt. First-Class Jonathan Hogan is another member of the team, on a three-year recruitment rotation. He talks to recruits about his experience in the Army for the past eight years. He said he found stability and challenges as a member of the Army Airborne, the soldiers who parachute from planes. He’s been stationed in El Paso, Texas, and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and also has done a tour of South Korea.
The center with eight recruiters is run by Sgt. First-Class O’Neil Findlay, who came to the city in September. Findlay, 34, is married with a child and joined the Army 15 years ago. He, too, came to the United States from Jamaica at age 15. After graduating from Flushing High School in Queens, he says he was drawn to the Army by the potential to travel the world.
“It sounded like a good opportunity,” Findlay said, adding his first assignment took him to Hawaii before stints in upstate New York, and Washington State. He had a tour in Iraq a few years ago, working in aviation communications and making sure the radio systems for the helicopters were working.
The recruiters offer choices: Active Duty or Army Reserve, and note the Army also provides opportunities for men and women to become officers or get an education in jobs in the sciences, technology and engineering.
Marrero said the recruiters laid out the options well.
‘I don’t know what I want to do, yet,” he said. “I want to use my degree. I’d like to work my way up to some type of leadership role. The Army can offer me that.”
Findlay said the recruiters promote the Army, talk to people about the advantages and future opportunities — including the 150 different jobs the Army offers, and dispel any incorrect impressions of military work.
They roam across Westchester into the Bronx, meeting with high school seniors and attending community events, like local basketball games.
“For the most part, we’re well received,” he said. “We adjust. We’re not always in uniform. We go into the community. We’re part of the community here.”
He said the reactions are mostly positive. They recruit from a diverse community, and get high school students, people in their 20s and even some New York City police officers looking to serve in the Reserves.
“We get a lot of people walking in,” Findlay said.