SAN ANTONIO - Corie Goodwin worked long hours at modest pay for a San Antonio telemarketing firm that he said frequently fired customer service representatives who didn't stick to their scripts - literally.
Though good at what he did, Goodwin, 21, of Live Oak, Texas, wanted to find an organization that could give him a better future, and with that idea in mind he landed the one job that offered training, college benefits and real security.
He's becoming a soldier.
"I want to make sure I do have a job," he said, "so I can continue to make car payments, insurance, the phone bill, maybe even a house payment one day."
Rarely has the Army seen better days. Recruiters are doing so well they'll make their annual goal of signing up 74,500 active-duty soldiers sometime in June - four months before deadline, a milestone not seen in years.
That's not all. In a sign of difficult economic times and the sense among prospective recruits and those who help shape their views that the military is pulling away from combat in Iraq, virtually every recruit is a high school graduate for the first time in almost 20 years.
So far in 2010, 99 percent of recruits have been high school graduates, a number that has been bested only once, in 1992. The turnaround comes as the national jobless rate hovers at 9.7 percent, unchanged since January.
Four years ago, 87 percent of new soldiers had a high school diploma, falling short of the Pentagon's benchmark of 90 percent. That changed little until last year, when it shot into the low and then high 90s.
"I've made them do that," said Maj. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr., head of the Army Recruiting Command. "I don't get a big head about this, but when I took command I looked at the high school degree rates and said, 'How do we raise that?"'
The Army has struggled for more than a decade to sign up enough young boots, especially during Iraq's most violent years. To make its goal, typically 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers a year, it has spent around $200 million annually for ads and events like the All-American Bowl, held early each year at the Alamodome.
It also has turned to enlistment bonuses that range from $20,000 to $40,000, depending on the length of a first-time recruit's contract.
The economy appears to be powering the Army's recruiting renaissance. A San Antonio Express-News study of Army recruiting stations nationwide in early 2009 found a sharp uptick in interest, often from the unemployed or those fearful of losing their jobs - a situation that continues.