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Counter-recruitment fight spreads

April 8, 2005 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the fight to keep the military off campus.

HIGH SCHOOL senior Cortnee Smith had been planning to join the National Guard when she graduated.

Until, that is, her father Michael, himself a former National Guard recruiter, was called to duty last July and shipped to Iraq--and decided he didn't want his daughter to experience what he'd seen while at war. "He was like, 'No, no, don't go,'" Smith, a student at Shepard High School in Palos Heights, Ill., told the Chicago Tribune. "'Tell [the recruiter] to stop contacting you.'"

As the war in Iraq drags on, the Bush administration is increasingly desperate to fill the ranks of the military--and particularly the Reserves and National Guard, who make up more than 40 percent of the approximately 145,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq.

This year alone, the Army is seeking 101,200 new active-duty Army and Reserve soldiers to fill its ranks. "That means each of the Army's 7,500 recruiters faces the grind of an unyielding human math, a quota of two new recruits a month, at a time of extended war without a draft," the New York Times reported. Army officials recently admitted that they failed to meet recruitment goals for February and March--and are projected to fail again in April. The Reserves, meanwhile, have failed to meet recruiting goals since October.

In a sign of desperation, the Army announced in September that it would add 1,200 recruiters to the field--on top of already doubling bonuses for three-year enlistments. "Recruiters are hitting NASCAR events, rock concerts, rodeos and rib festivals, using custom-painted Humvees and other gimmicks to attract the masses, like old-fashioned traveling salesmen," reported the Tribune.

Last month, the Army also announced that the maximum age at which new recruits are eligible to join the National Guard and Reserves was being increased to 39, and the military has also changed requirements in order to accept thousands more recruits who lack a high school diploma--formerly a mandatory requirement.

From promises of money for college and job training to assurances of a steady job, recruiters are saying whatever they can to make students sign on the dotted line. But the biggest hurdle in meeting recruitment goals may be coming from the very same young people that the military is targeting.

High school and college campuses across the U.S. have seen a flurry of anti-recruitment activity in recent weeks, as students have stood up to say that they won't let themselves or their friends become cannon fodder.

Last month, 150 students turned out at a San Francisco State University career fair to protest recruiters from the Air Force and Army Corps of Engineers. Students surrounded recruiters' tables, chanting, "Racist, sexist, anti-gay, U.S. military go away." When recruiters tried to wait out the protest, students staged a sit-in and antiwar teach-in.

At the City College of New York, more than 150 protesters gathered last month to defend three students and a staff member who were arrested for peacefully protesting recruiters at a March 9 campus career fair.

At the University of Illinois-Chicago, 20 people showed up on almost no notice to protest the U.S. Army's "iCaramba" recruitment tour--aimed at young Latinos. Protesters distributed stickers that said, "Stop recruiting for war at UIC," and were able to convince some students to turn away from the recruiters' table. At the University of the District of Columbia, about 30 activists turned out to protest recruiters from the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) office late last month.

These protests aren't just happening on campuses with a history of antiwar activism, either. At Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts, students in the Anti-War Coalition (AWC) last month got the Student Senate to pass a motion barring military recruiters from campus. The Parent Teacher Association at nearby Easthampton High School even invited the AWC to a meeting to speak on the issue of counter-recruitment.

In February, a group of Los Angeles high school students refused to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test regularly given in working-class and minority schools that helps recruiters with the information they need to corral students into the military.

And in Chicago, plans to put a Naval academy in Senn High School--and set aside much of the school's resources for the military--were put on hold following months of protests and anti-recruitment activism by teachers, students and community members.

According to the Campus Antiwar Network's Monique Dols, "We keep hearing about cases in other colleges and high schools where it is happening. For example, at the Out Now demonstration on March 19 in New York City, I met a group of Black and Latino high school students from a New York City public school in the Bronx who had spontaneously kicked off the military recruiters that week. Apparently, it went something like this: They saw them there, got a bunch of their friends together, and just swamped the recruiters, yelling, 'We don't want you here!' until they left."

The growing campaign to kick recruiters off our campuses is having an impact--by making it harder for military recruiters to meet their goals and helping to rebuild the antiwar movement. Students and activists are sending a message that we won't stand for the military using our schools to recruit cannon fodder in their war for oil and empire.

Former recruiter turned antiwar activist:
''My job is to show what the military is about''

CHRIS DUGAN served in the Marines from 1995 to 1999 and was briefly a recruiter in his hometown of New York City. Since leaving the military, he has become an antiwar activist, speaking out to expose the tactics used by recruiters. Here, we print excerpts from Chris' interview with Socialist Worker's NICOLE COLSON about what antiwar activists should know to counter the military recruiters.

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YOU'VE RECENTLY went to several military recruiters. What are they telling people to get them to join up?

I VISITED a Navy recruiter. I have yet to visit an Army recruiter or an Air Force recruiter. I went in and told the gentleman, "I'm 28 years old, I have school loans, and I don't know what to do." He said, "We're offering money for school."

But what was peculiar to me was that he said the Army and the Marines are offering bonuses. That's very rare. When I was a recruiter's assistant--and I can remember when I was recruited--the recruiter would never refer you to another armed service. That would take away from their quota, obviously. So you can see that there's a push, because the Marines and the Army aren't making their quotas.

I told him he should know that I didn't want to be in combat. I wanted to just pay off my school loans, perhaps work with computers on a ship or something like that. So then he knew where I stood, and he just pitched the story to me.

I acted a little bit reluctant, like I wasn't sure of what I wanted to do. I said, "I'm 28. My mother's a little scared. She doesn't want me to join the military." "No problem," the recruiter said. "We'll go down and pick up your mother. Where does she live?" "New Jersey." He says, "We'll drive to New Jersey and pick her up in the government vehicle. That's why we have them. We'll show her some videos. We'll go out to eat. We'll talk."

It's exactly what they did with my mom. My mother would actually call the recruiter and say, "Chris is misbehaving in school. Can you talk to him about it?"

I said, "What if I want to get out? Let's say I don't like what I'm doing, and I want to change my job. Can I change my job?" This is one of the reasons I joined, actually--because they told me I could change my job.

The recruiter said, "Of course. We don't want you doing a job that you don't want to do, because that means that you might be a hazard to the rest of the workers. We don't want you working on a jet airplane if you don't want to work on a jet airplane." Which is ridiculous. They make it seem like you can just change jobs--like you can fill out a form. It's a huge bureaucracy. It rarely ever happens unless it suits them.

I said, "What if I don't like it, and I want to get out completely?" Again, he said, "If you don't like it, we don't want you in there, because you're a liability to the armed forces, to the Navy...So, you can get out."

I said, "What kind of discharge would I get?" He said it would be an administrative discharge. That's the bullshit they tell you. You'll get an administrative discharge--but it takes a lot of work to get that, and by then, you're tagged as a "slacker," so they're looking for other ways to get you out. They're looking at you as a troublemaker. But he made sure to make it seem like these are easy things to do.

When I was in the office, there was a young African American gentleman behind me. They were acting in that paternal role--like, "Hey, how'd you do on your test? How's your family life." I'm looking at them, and I'm thinking--all they care about is that number.

They asked me how much money I made. I said, "Well, I'm just a student" I made it up, I said, "I work at a bar. I maybe make $350 a week." They said, "Oh, that's really horrible. This is how much you'll be making right away [in the service]. This is how much will go into your school loans." They pitch you a story off of what you tell them.

They want to add warm bodies--that's the key. It's not about what they can do for you--it's about what you can do for them.

THERE'S BEEN some discussion about whether anti-recruitment activists should be just a legal or educational resource, or whether we should be confronting recruiters on campus and holding protests. What do you think?

CONFRONT. I see it when we go--you confront recruiters, and you get people thinking. You have to be out there. You have to be showing people what's going on, and the only way you do that is not just handing out flyers, but handing out flyers and drawing the parallels to what's going on as far as the politics of the situation. I'm totally opposed to just "being a resource."

What I'm hearing from other people is you can't confront recruiters because they're just doing their job. Well, I'm doing my job--and my job is to show people what the military does.

Whether you go to war or you don't go to war, you come out with less chance of making more money--if that's your goal. You have a greater chance of having psychological problems. Even if you don't go to war, the dehumanizing aspects of the Marine Corps are insane. I didn't realize it until I started talking to other vets. When you start to hang around other vets, you start to draw parallels--even if you weren't in war--to what's going on today.

Answering activists' questions

STUDENT ACTIVISTS who have legal questions about their rights in protesting the military on campus can go to several excellent resources on the Web.

-- The federal government has given the military unprecedented access to high school students' information through the No Child Left Behind Act. But according to the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, the act "requires that parents be notified that the school routinely discloses names, addresses and telephone numbers to military recruiters upon request, subject to a parent's request not to disclose such information without written consent."

More information about your legal rights under the No Child Left Behind Act is available at the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools Web site.

-- A recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Solomon Amendment, a 1995 law that lets the government strip federal funding from campuses that bar military recruiters. The judges agreed with those filing the suit that the amendment forces colleges with anti-discrimination clauses to welcome the military, an openly anti-gay organization. While the ruling has been stayed pending a government appeal, activists can still use it to bolster their right to protest recruiters on campus. To learn more about the Solomon ruling, visit solomonresponse.org.

-- For information about what young people should know before they join the military, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors has an online Military Out of Our Schools program.

-- On April 9, the Campus Antiwar Network will host a West Coast Counter-recruitment Conference at City College of San Francisco, featuring workshops on "The Case Against Military Recruitment," "How to Kick Recruiters Off Your Campus" and "How to Organize at High Schools." In addition, the March issue of CAN's newsletter, Campus Action, reports on counter-recruitment activities across the country. Conference details and the newsletter are available at Campus Antiwar Network Web site.

Other excellent resources for counter-recruitment activists include the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft Web site--and the American Friends Service Committee's counter-recruitment links.

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