It’s like a big video game except that you can’t hit restart when you lose a limb

The circus came to town this weekend with lots of shiny toys:

At 10:30 a.m. on the second day of the Miramar Air Show, people perched on the runway sidelines and looked to the sky for the B-1 flyover. The bomber zoomed by at 600 miles per hour, tailed by a deafening engine roar.

“That’s ‘The Bone!’ ” the announcer boomed as the audience cheered. Excitement – not just planes – filled the air yesterday at the 50th annual air show, which began Friday and ends today. And onlookers’ romance with flight was not lost on military recruiters, who were out in full force.

The Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard set up booths in the center of the main fairway, courting visitors with fliers, bumper stickers, dog tags and other gear.

A popular 200-foot-tall climbing wall was sponsored by the Army. The Navy brought an F-18 flight simulator that had people lined up for half a city block. And the giant inflatable obstacle course? Courtesy of the Marines.

“The air show is a great opportunity to get the message out about what we do,” said Staff Sgt. Antonio Lopez, 34, a recruiter for the Marines.

The large presence comes amid a backdrop of reduced enlistment during wartime. The Army fell almost 7,000 recruits short of its goal of 80,000 active-duty soldiers for fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30.

This month, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey announced that the Army will accept more recruits who score poorly on military aptitude tests. In general, recruits must be of reasonable weight and have a high school diploma or equivalent.

At the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station yesterday, the Army was having no trouble attracting the attention of young people.

Teenage boys stood transfixed at a station of 11 flat-screen computers playing “America’s Army,” a video game that simulates combat and is distributed for free to promote the Army. Others toured a giant semitruck containing a flight simulator and a remote-controlled robotic arm.

More than 200 people turned in cards Friday indicating their interest in enlisting, said Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Pembroke, a 37-year-old Army recruiter.

“We didn’t make (our) mission this year, but it doesn’t affect how we work,” said Pembroke, who represents the Army at high schools. “I’m first a mentor, then a career counselor. I want to help these kids figure out what they want to do.”

At the nearby tent set up by the Marines Corps, the sounds of jet engines mingled with beats of popular hip-hop songs “Yeah!” and “In Da Club” as children and teenagers eyed an inflatable challenge course.

To run the course, visitors had to be at least 13 years old and fill out a combination liability/enlistment-interest form. The form includes a box to check if you wish to be contacted by recruiters.

I guess this is one notch up from recruiting the recently homeless

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Yeah. Like I would tell you....