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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 3, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 17Oakland, CA

Groups push to restrict the military recruitment of teens

For many parents, the news comes as a shock – local public high schools are turning over student names, addresses and telephone numbers to military recruiters, and some are going farther, allowing military vans on campus and recruiters in the classroom.

“They do not know that their child’s information is being released to the Armed Forces,” said Donna Foley, outreach coordinator for Pax Christi of Northern California and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Fremont. “They sort of assume privacy, and they are very shocked to hear that this is true.”

But several groups have recently formed to oppose recruitment in the schools, from the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, sponsored by Los Angeles teachers, to the I Will Not Kill Campaign of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

One of the new initiatives is the Leave My Child Alone campaign, supported by several activist and religious groups. The project has been publicizing a little known provision of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools receiving federal money to hand over to the military information about juniors and seniors.

The campaign is also telling parents that they have the right to remove their child’s name from the school’s list by notifying the school in writing. Some school districts send to parents an “opt-out” letter they can sign to remove their child from the list and others include it in parents’ information packets. Some, however, fail to provide it at all.

Berkeley High School has taken a still different approach, allowing
parents and students to “opt in” to the list. The school only turns over information on students who request it, and out of 2,000 students last year, 27 chose to be on the list.

East Bay Catholic high schools report that they do not give student information to the military, and all restrict recruiters’ access to students. They do not invite them into classrooms or to career day events, but some allow speakers from the military academies to make presentations.

The situation is different in public schools. Army Sgt. First Class Jemahl Martinson, a recruiter working out of Alameda, said he visits “all the public high school campuses.” Some schools let him come into the classroom, he said, and teachers occasionally invite him to make presentations.

“They get behind on their work, so they schedule us to talk so they can catch up,” he said. When parents object to recruiters’ calls and visits, he said, “We say we’re just trying to give information. Just talking to an army recruiter isn’t the same as signing up. There’s a long qualification process.”

Counselors at Catholic high schools, however, said they are wary about contact between students and recruiters, even when a student has requested it. Dominican Sister Donna Maria Moses, a college counselor at St. Elizabeth High School in Oakland, asks parents for permission to arrange an interview between their teen and a recruiter, and she insists on being present.

A student who wanted to take ROTC in college, she said, recently spoke to a recruiter, but even though Sister Moses had explained the student’s goals, the recruiter offered a different program. If the student had accepted, Sister Moses said, “She could have found herself overseas.” Students don’t know what questions to ask, she said.

Janet Appel, college counselor at De La Salle High in Concord, said that when students sign up for the Armed Forces, expecting to get training that will help them in the future, they may be disappointed. “That training seems to be according to the military’s needs and not the recruit’s,” she said.

A significant difference between choosing the military and selecting a college or a job training program is the freedom to leave, said counselor Jack Stevens at Salesian High School in Richmond. The military “is a big commitment,” he said, and it is nearly irrevocable. “It’s not like where they go to college they can drop out.”

But if a student has a serious interest in the military, he or she deserves support, agree Sister Moses at St. Elizabeth and Lorin Peters, who teaches Alternatives to Violence at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. “If that’s what you really desire, you know it in your gut,” Sister Moses said.

Peters, who has devoted much of his life to promoting non-violent conflict resolution, said, “Some who take my course do still consider military service as an option. I tell them, ‘If you’re going to be a soldier, be a good soldier,’ If we’re going to have a military, I’d like to see our best people in the military.”

High school administrators from throughout the Bay Area, however, report that the great majority of students show little interest in the military, even though recruiters may be present on campus with “adventure vans” – filled with an array of activities for youth - or speaking in classrooms and taking part in processions and sporting events.

Army recruiters in particular are eager to fill out their quotas, which have fallen short as casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan increase. They are keeping a high profile at schools and offering bonuses as well as promises of job training to attract young men and women.

Susan Quinlan, a volunteer with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in Oakland, said many young people may be against the Armed Forces while they are in high school, but after graduation, “at a weak moment when everything else is looking grim, a recruiter may get you and you may sign up.”

Quinlan visits schools in a counter- recruitment effort, always teaming up with a veteran. She speaks about the realities of war, the efforts of recruiters, the right to “opt out” of the military’s list of names and addresses, the possibility of a draft and the right to be a conscientious objector.

She tells students who have enrolled before their 18th birthday in a “delayed enlistment” program that they have the right to withdraw at any time before they show up for training. The veterans talk about life in the military and their own decisions to oppose the present war.

“Teachers have appreciated us and invited us back,” she said. Students have said that even in Junior ROTC courses – offered at several schools – “nobody ever talked about the war.”

Donna Foley of Pax Christi said she speaks about recruitment to church
and parent groups, and she has worked with officials at her sons’ high school in Fremont, objecting to recruiters taking up instructional time in the classroom and driving Humvees onto the campus grounds.

“My process is to assume that everyone wants the best for the student,” she said, “and in fact teachers and administrators always feel they are doing the best thing.” The principal told her that the military “is a great opportunity for some of our students,” and this, she said, raises the question, for which students?

Foley and Peters both said they advised their sons to sign up with Selective Service when they reached the age of 18 but to indicate that they are enrolling as conscientious objectors. “Write a letter or fill out the card, copy it and send it to yourself with a postal stamp and keep it in a file,” Foley said.

In addition, those seeking objector status should have a file of materials on hand to show their commitment is authentic. “If the draft is reinstated, you would have a very short time to get your paperwork together,” Foley said.

Even if families support the military as a career, she said, the issue of recruitment provides “a great opportunity for discernment.

No matter where a family stands as far as this particular war, they’re probably interested in making sure their kids have all the information they need to make a choice.”

And there is an additional question to ponder, Foley said: “If you’re talking about recruitment in the schools, it’s a great opportunity to think about what is the purpose of a school, what does a school exist for?”

Members of the Armed Forces carry flags during a naturalization ceremony held earlier this year in Sacramento. Some secondary schools assign this role to military recruiters during ceremonial occasions, but others do not allow them to visit their campuses.





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