Recruiter urges candidates to consider all options
Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer
Saturday, 20 July 2013 08:17
In many ways, Sgt. Nicholi Garner isn't a typical soldier.
|Sergeant Nicholi Garner (left) talks to Marine recruits during a workout Wednesday in Bowling Green. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
The Marine doesn't regret missing out on combat opportunities, serving tours in Iraq and Africa but never really engaging with enemy troops.
He also doesn't lament missing the metaphorical boat to the Naval Academy, having enlisted and gone to boot camp without knowing he was offered a college education.
But in other ways, he's precisely what the corps was seeking in a recruiter when he was sent from Virginia Beach, Va. to work out of the Bowling Green office at Main and Wooster streets.
Garner said his goal isn't to convince every young person to consider a military career. Rather, he sees his role as someone meant to encourage potential troops to consider all their options before moving forward with a commitment.
Garner doesn't look back, worrying about what might have been if word had reached him during boot camp in Paris Island, SC in 2007 that he had actually been accepted to the Naval Academy.
"I didn't even know I was accepted until after I got back from boot camp," Garner said.
If had known, he could have left.
"It's not something they tell you," he admitted.
He would have pursued a double major and been trained as an officer afterward, rather than going into intelligence.
Garner, however, says the last six years, consisting of much more training than combat, put him in a better position to help people. That's the mission driving him since he joined a Young Marines youth group growing up near Cleveland when he was just 13. There, he was attracted by members' sense of community service and desire to give back.
Spirituality and service both run deep. Prior to completing high school and enlisting in the Marine Corps, Garner was ordained as a Pentecostal minister.
He said his faith hasn't clashed with being in the military, though there are occasional conflicts, such as working on a Sunday.
Training for national defense, though, wasn't a problem.
After learning the ropes in intelligence, Garner was excited for a chance to use his training when he was deployed to Iraq in 2008.
He said he experienced "definite culture shock" when he left his wife, Myrna, at home and traveled to Al Asad Airbase, where he mostly repaired computers. Without seeing combat in the region, he returned home just a few weeks later as troops were scaled back.
"As a Marine, you're waiting to go," he said. "You want to tackle the unknown and actually know.
"You're excited to leave, but not really. And you're kind of disappointed because you didn't really experience anything."
After teaching intelligence courses for several years, he was sent to join the Horn of Africa, an international unit tasked with keeping an eye on countries like Djibouti, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.
Garner said he doesn't regret not seeing more combat before being tapped for a recruiting position. He also had the option to become a drill sergeant but admitted it wasn't right for him.
Now, he's responsible for helping youth make potentially the most important decisions in their lives.
"Sometimes I have to shatter people's dreams," he said, recalling a high school student with a plan to drop out and earn a General Educational Development certificate before enlisting, and eyes on becoming a lawyer someday.
Garner said he receives no incentive for signing people on and aims to level with those who may have unreasonable expectations or might not fit in.
"It's something you have to want," he said. "If I don't have your heart into something that you believe in, then you're not going to want to do it."
It's not hard to spot those with the calling Garner looks for in those looking to enlist. One candidate, who said he didn't care much about the paycheck, reminded Garner of himself.
"I could see in his eyes that he wanted to be a Marine," he said. "The money we're going to pay you doesn't matter. The places we're going to send you, the job that you're going to have doesn't matter. You just know you want to be a Marine. That's all you care about."