CHICAGO — Persuading young men and women to join America’s “9-1-1” force has been the easiest job in the Marine Corps for Staff Sgt. Keith A. Sandor.
So easy that it took less than four years to successfully contract more than 100 qualified Marine applicants into the Marine Corps, netting him the highly coveted title of “Centurion” during an awards ceremony recently.
The title of “Centurion,” after Roman warriors who commanded 100 men, is bestowed upon Marine recruiters who successfully contract 100 qualified Marine recruit applicants during their recruiting tour.
“It’s not as hard as everyone says. You just need to stay positive. Once you let negativity take over, you’re done,” said Sandor, Recruiting Substation Morris, Ill., noncommissioned officer in charge.
Sandor first recruited out of the DuPage South, Ill., recruiting substation in December 2002, where he replaced a Marine relieved from recruiting duty.
“I came out here, hearing that it was the hardest job in the Corps, and that made me want to excel,” said the former radio operator with the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.
The Eatonville, Wash., native and his recruiters met resistance with some of the local high schools for the first six months. But after proving his devotion and motivation to the community beyond taking their kids and putting them in boot camp, the schools opened their doors and community support began flowing into the substation.
“I did a lot of volunteer work and had a lot of community involvement, including volunteer coaching for two of the high schools here,” said Sandor, who, as a high school senior, lost a wrestling scholarship to Penn State University after breaking his ankle during the first game of the 1996 season with the Eatonville High School football team.
Sandor, 29, also volunteered his time organizing Marine Corps color guards for local parades and events.
Recruiting duty, with its arduous working hours and seemingly non-existent weekends, can impede on the family life. Sandor made it a point to incorporate his wife of three years, Christina Sandor.
“My wife knows every kid that I put into the Corps,” Sandor said. “Whenever I go to the (poolees’) birthday or graduation parties, she always comes along.”
When he’s not on the streets, canvassing for highly qualified applicants, he makes it a point to put forth the effort to meet Christina for a quick breakfast or lunch, putting forth the effort to keep a strong marriage in the face of a highly demanding job.
“She understands that I could easily be in Iraq right now,” he said.
Another person Sandor attributed his success as a recruiter to is his former noncommissioned officer in charge and current MCRS Chicago recruiter/instructor, Master Sgt. Larry S. Pyles.
“He showed me how to protect my Marines, how to reward them, how to get them on their feet if they’re having trouble, and the difference between work and play,” Sandor said.
Three years after arriving to Chicago, Sandor was ready to move on with his Marine Corps career and change stations to Marine Corps Bases Japan. However, due to a manpower shortage, Sandor was involuntarily extended for six months here.
With 75 contracts to his name, Sandor was determined to become a Centurion before his departure.
“It would’ve been easy to give up at that point, but I saw that mark of 100 and I went after it,” he said.
Sandor contracted more than 28 applicants within the following eight months – more than some recruiters can accomplish in a year.
His 100th contract, 18-year-old Bryce Hening, was signed after some challenging and reverse psychology.
“Hening was originally interested in joining the Air Force, but he got a really low score on his Enlistment Screening Test. I told him that he had to study and work hard if he wanted to do anything, and by Marine Corps standards, he was disqualified,” said Sandor.
Hening took his challenge to heart, and studied until he passed the EST. Hening ships for Marine Corps recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., in October.
With the recent media spotlight on recruiter ethics, Sandor says it’s important, now more than ever, for Marine recruiters to remember their core values and keep their honor clean.
“Always remember never to lose your integrity. Stick to what you know, which is the Marine Corps.
“Everyone has slumps. I might have a rough month, but I know that if I bust my butt next month, I’ll have a good month, and keep having good months thereafter,” said Sandor. “You lose your integrity out here, you lose the battle.”
Sandor will now report to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C, where he is expected to deploy to Iraq with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group sometime next year.