U.S. Army Sergeant First Class William J. Garcia discussed career opportunities Wednesday through the U.S. Army as a gateway to a better way of life and a noble way to protect fellow Americans.

A native of New Orleans, Garcia enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves in June 2000 while still in high school. He is currently assigned to the Pine Bluff Recruiting Center and is responsible for filling available positions for the active duty and reserve components. His father was a master mechanic and his mother was a licensed practical nurse.

“I took the hybrid route and enlisted as a medical laboratory technician,” Garcia said. “I did not want people coughing directly on me, but I did not want to be covered in oil everyday either.”

Garcia completed basic training at Fort Benning, did medical training at Fort Sam Houston and did on-the-job training at Fort Polk. He studied at the University of New Orleans.

“9/11 happened. A lot of active duty soldiers were called to go to Iraq at the time,” Garcia said. “I felt that one of the main reasons for me joining was to be part of something bigger. What bigger thing is there in the military than when warfare comes to your door. I mobilized to Fort Bliss to work at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in the laboratory. That was my first active-duty stay.”

Garcia said he calls families to discuss recruiting their young adult children and has had people hang up on him. He said many Americans proclaim their support for the military but object to their children enlisting.

Garcia dispelled the notion that the Army exists solely to fight wars. He said the Army offers careers in information technology, medicine and mechanics.

“We are not all war-fighting robots,” Garcia said.

He said the Army’s mission is to protect Americans from enemies whether they are foreign or domestic.

“It is our opportunity to make betterment in the world,” Garcia said. “The military’s role is protecting the people here who do the most good. I feel it is a worthy one.”

Garcia said he does not live in a tent, which shocks some people. He recruits by meeting in person and following up by phone. Garcia said he operates an Army Facebook page that features his colleagues and he making funny faces to show that they are human beings behind the uniform. Some people believe that Army life is entirely serious, and Garcia wants to show that they do more than fight wars.

“A lot of folks will have an opportunity to start a career that they would not otherwise,” he said. “I have a platform to end generational poverty depending on the people I am working with. For some, they are multi-generational welfare recipients who never had a full-time job. And now they can suddenly go anywhere in the world, have opportunities to buy a house for the first time, buy a car for the first time. A lot of those families go right along with them. … Some of the people I worked with had no personal address. They were living with friends, relatives, basically sleeping on the floor. Now they are in Korea, taking tours of the Orient, seeing exotic places.”

Garcia also discussed difficulties with recruiting people in relation to meeting academic standards. Nineteen of 20 people fail an academic test that is a prerequisite to joining the Army, he said.

The Army provides about $65,000 to soldiers to attend college, he said. The Army Reserve is designed for people who are working in civilian jobs, full-time students and people who want unique vocational training.

After his discussion, Garcia received a certificate of appreciation from Pine Bluff Kiwanis Club President John Henry.