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Why no one should sign up for...
"The most dangerous job in the world"

March 4, 2005 | Page 10

RAY PARRISH and BILL DAVIS both served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. When they returned to the U.S., they took part in the antiwar struggle, joining Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).

Ray is a GI rights counselor for VVAW, and Bill is one of the organization's national co-coordinators. They spoke with Socialist Worker about all the reasons not to join the military.

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THOSE WHO support the military and military recruiting say that if you prevent recruiters from coming on campus, you are denying opportunities to students interested in a career in the military. What do you say to this?

Bill: I think students are getting inundated with this stuff anyway--literally everywhere you turn. Radio, television, magazines--you rent a movie at Blockbuster, and there's an ad for the military. They're putting a big effort out there to sell themselves. If someone is pro-military, and they want to join the military, it's not difficult to find these people.

But let's be honest. The military is not a legitimate job--and recruiters shouldn't be included as part of job fairs.

For one thing, you can't quit without facing jail time. And there's a reason that the military has been called the most dangerous job in the world. You have none of the protections that you have in a civilian job. The Bill of Rights is suspended, the Constitution is suspended, and instead, you're put under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

If something is unsafe--and a big portion of what you do in the military is always unsafe--you can't refuse to do that. It's not like you have a union behind you. You have no Occupational Safety and Health Administration, no Environmental Protection Agency. There's no oversight on the military.

DOES THE military at least provide the job training it claims to?

Ray: So many of the jobs are specific to the military, even though they're jobs that you would think would be transferable to civilian life. In my particular case, for example, I was trained in the Russian language. But I couldn't speak with a Russian about anything other than the air pressure and what the armaments are in his unit. It's a very specific vocabulary.

Then, the Air Force said that they were going to help me get a job after I got out, so they trained me as a sheet metal technician during my last year. I got out and went to the sheet metal workers, and they laughed at the certificate I gave them, and said you're starting from scratch.

Bill: Take my job, for instance, as a union mechanic. They never hire anyone out of the military, even if they have 10 years experience. The first thing they want to know is whether you have an associate's degree or are willing to work for a bachelor's degree in automotive technology, and they tell you you'll start as an apprentice in any case. That's the same deal that any other kid would get without the military.

Ray: As far as I'm concerned, the issue with their promises is that so many of them are half-truths. Sure, they'll train you to do something. But whether or not that something is going to be useful once you leave the military is a different question.

And on top of that, even if you get trained at some wonderful specialty job, they might not need you doing that job. But they will need you driving a convoy truck or standing guard at a gate. So even if you spent a year in training for some electronics job, if they need you as a trigger finger, they'll just forget about all the training they put you through and use you as a trigger finger.

IT SEEMS that the number one reason people give for joining is education benefits. But are these benefits really worth it?

Ray: The basic idea is that you enlist and pay $100 a month into this GI Bill fund, and then when you get out, the military adds more money into that fund, and you get all the money that you contributed back, plus more.

The reality is that the money going into that college fund every year is a profit for the military. The Pentagon's only profitable cost center is the college fund. They pay out $72 million a year less than they take in.

Part of the reason is that less than half of the veterans use their GI Bill. So even though they contributed, they don't use it. And when you talk to the veterans who are not using it, half the time they say, "I wouldn't be able to handle the stress of a full-time college until after I've resolved my post-traumatic stress disorder." And because the mental-health system is broken down, it's hard to get this help.

The other part of it is that so many veterans get bad discharges. Even if they paid the money into the GI Bill, they aren't entitled to use it unless they get a fully honorable discharge and fulfill several other criteria that not every soldier can fulfill.

Ten years after your date of discharge, your GI Bill benefits disappear. So if it takes you 10 years to get over your drug or alcohol addiction before you can get to the mental point where you can tackle college, it's too late for you.

Bill: I work at UPS, and I hate my job as much as anyone in the world. But I'll tell you: the education benefits at UPS are superior to the military's. You've got a union job, health benefits, a pension, and a lot of people are working their way through school at the same time. And if you don't like it, you can quit. You can walk away--unlike the military.

WHAT ADVICE do you have for counter-recruitment activists?

Ray: I look at it this way--an informed GI is a royal pain in the ass for the military brass. That's one of the things I want to accomplish. When I'm sitting there on career day at the high school two tables down from the Air Force and Army recruiters, when the people come by and pick up our literature, even if they do go ahead and enlist in the military, they will do so knowing what their rights are--and knowing what phone numbers to call if they have trouble.

When we reach people as counter-recruiters, they aren't just robots after basic training. Because they come in as informed GIs, they have a better chance of coming out with their heads up high as antiwar veterans, rather than slinking out of the military embarrassed that they were ever in it.

If you need informational materials, rights counseling or know someone who does, contact Ray at 773-561-VVAW, or send him an e-mail at [email protected].

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