Nineteen years ago when Shelly Taylor joined the Navy during the fall of her senior year at Delta High School, her family predicted she'd never last.
"You'll be home in two weeks," Lt. Cmdr. Taylor recalls her mother telling her.
They had good reason for such thoughts. In the late 1980s, Commander Taylor, who was then Shelly Wagner, often spent two hours a day styling her hair and getting dressed to go out.
But they were wrong.
The military life, which she chose primarily as a way to get out of Fulton County without immediately enrolling in college, appears to be a great fit for Commander Taylor. Next week she will be recognized in Washington as one of the Navy's 12 best recruiters, selected from more than 4,000 in the country.
"I really like what I do," Commander Taylor, 36, said of the nearly two years she's recruited in northern Texas and Oklahoma.
Her award is for the number of officers she recruited into the Navy Reserves, combined with her other work in the military. For the year ending this fall, she signed up 17 officers and assisted with 14 others who were passed on to her from recruiters in other locations.
Her goal had been 13 total.
By the numbers, her achievement is fairly average. But the Navy gives special consideration for recruits with hard-to-get skills and education and among those whom Commander Taylor recruited are a clinical psychologist and several engineers.
She's looking for recruits who are ages 21 to 42, hold a bachelor's degree, are physically fit, and don't have any felonies on their record. In many fields, a master's degree is preferable. "We want people who can bring something to the table," she said.
To find such folks - and then convince them to join the reserves or active-duty Navy, she spends at least 50 hours a week following the circuit of job fairs and other college and university events.
Her office is in Irving, Texas, north of Dallas, but she's often on the road. Her territory in Texas stretches east to Tyler, south to Waco, and west to Lubbock. Her northern boundary is Tulsa, Okla.
The war in Iraq has made her work harder. Even when potential recruits are willing to go, their loved ones are often aghast at that possibility.
Others are just unwilling to leave Texas under any circumstances.
It's not uncommon for potential recruits to ask her if they can join the Navy, but stay in Texas.
"They're very serious," Commander Taylor said.
She's equally serious when she answers with an unequivocal, "No."
But her biggest challenge, she said, is balancing her recruiting work with her family life with her husband and three children, ages 9, 7, and 5.
But Commander Taylor's recruiting work is only temporary, she said. After her original Navy training as a cryptology technician, where she learned to maintain computers used in writing and deciphering messages in code, she went to college on a full Navy scholarship to get her bachelor of science degree in nursing.
She eventually became a high-risk labor and delivery nurse, a career she says she loves and will return to.
However, she wanted to spend a couple years as a recruiter for a new challenge. She hoped, she said, to give new recruits the same guidance she had received from her recruiter in northwest Ohio.
Unlike many young sailors, who are known to say, "My recruiter never told me " or "My recruiter said I would never have to ," Commander Taylor felt her recruiter had told her exactly what to expect in the military.
And everything he had said would happen did, she said, just like clockwork.
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