US Army Sgt. 1st Class Adam Klakowicz loads up for a nose grind in Ft. Bragg's skate park on April 23, 2022. Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.
In its latest pitch to woo young Californians to enlist in the US Army, recruiters are joining forces with a North Carolina company to host the San Diego Skate Jam.
It all kicks off Sunday, July 31, at the Linda Vista Skate Park, a local landmark inside a county teeming with active-duty sailors, Marines, and US Coast Guard personnel.
“This event is down at the park with the people that the recruiters want to talk to. They can engage face to face,” Raid Stateboard’s Chuck Robeson told Coffee or Die Magazine. “If there are [non-commissioned officers] who skate, they can actually skate with the people that they are recruiting and show them that joining the military doesn’t end their opportunity or ability to skate.”
Ryan Sheckler, center, was an eight-time X Games medalist as a skateboarder when he visited the Robert C. Stack Dining Facility on Sept. 12, 2018. Sheckler signed autographs, took photos and ate with soldiers and family members. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Perkey.
Robeson, a Coast Guard vet, said 1st Lt. Brian Kwon, a West Point grad and the executive officer of the recruiting company that canvasses the northern neighborhoods of the city, was a driving force behind the event.
Kwon concedes he’s not the world’s greatest skateboarder, but he knows there are a lot of skateboarders in the military, even if civilians might hear about them. When Robeson brought him data about skateboarding and the armed forces, he figured it was worth an afternoon in Southern California, the mecca of the sport.
“I was like, ‘Man, that's awesome,’” Kwon said. “And if we can integrate that, somehow that'd be even more awesome. So I guess that's how this event kind of kicked off as well.”
Both Robeson and Kwon were also intrigued by the similarities between skateboarding culture and the Army, especially the core belief that no one should give up on accomplishing a mission, whether that’s learning a daring skateboard jump or parachuting into battle.
US Army 1st Lt. Brian Kwon is a graduate of the US Military Academy and serves as the executive officer of the Southern California Recruiting Battalion's San Diego North Recruiting Company. Photo courtesy of Brian Kwon.
“These young adults are motivated, have discipline, and know how to face their own fear and overcome it,” Robeson said. “Everything it takes to progress in skateboarding is what’s needed to be successful in the military.”
It’s not the Pentagon’s first brush with skateboarding.
Recruiters have long worked the crowds at the X Games and other events. And the US Air Force is an official partner of the Dew Tour, which includes a ramp specially designed with blue wings to challenge skaters on the circuit.
But San Diego’s Sunday celebration of skateboarding comes at a tough time for Army recruiters nationwide.
During a July 19 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Joseph M. Martin, the Army’s vice chief of staff, told lawmakers the ground service faces a shortfall of nearly 37,000 soldiers through 2023.
A skateboarder ties out the ramp at the new skate park on Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington on June 16, 2022. The skate park was built to help bring the community together and add more outdoor activities on base. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Haiden Morris.
On top of the recruitment crunch, Pentagon leaders plan to boot roughly 20,000 soldiers in the Army National Guard, US Army Reserve, and active-duty force, who refused to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.
But recruiters remain optimistic they can still convince young Americans to volunteer.
The Army is hiking enlistment bonuses, offering student loan repayment plans, and recently announced relaxed tattoo policies, which Kwon thinks will be a topic the community will talk about at the park.
“We're creating this advantage where we can engage with the community and try to help kids kind of stay out of trouble as well,” Kwon said. “But the end goal is for NCOs to be able to give information and speak to these individuals who are interested in joining the Army.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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