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Military Recruitment in High Schools Raises Questions

Common Voice | May 25, 2005
By Diane M. Grassi

The head of the Army Recruiting Command, Major General Michael D. Rochelle, called for a “values stand-down” known in military parlance as a day of suspension on May 20, 2005. Aside from such a day in October 2004 which dealt with safety issues for recruiters, Major General Rochelle has never called a session to address recruiters regarding what he referred to as a means of reviewing the moral obligations of their mission. During a news briefing on May 20th, Rochelle said, “that some of the news coverage did make me more sensitive to the fact that there were some practices that were occurring just below my radar.”

At the heart of this matter is Rochelle’s own admission of “overlooking or concealing problems and police records that might make a recruit ineligible.” Most notably is the case of a 17-year-old high school student in suburban Denver, David McSwane, who posed as a drug user and dropout for an article for his school’s newspaper. Recruiters assisted McSwane with passing a drug test, manufacturing a fake diploma and getting around physical fitness requirements. In Houston, TX a local television news station, KHOU, broke the story of a recruiter who threatened to arrest a young high school student if he failed to show up at the recruitment station. And in Ohio a mentally ill student was signed for military service despite prohibition of such enlistments. His medical records were available but were never requested by the military according to his parents.

Since the all-volunteer military was formed in 1973, following United States involvement in the Viet Nam War, the Army in particular faces its biggest challenge to date in signing new recruits. The Army has not met its recruitment goals for the third straight month and is 6,600 recruits behind from where it hoped to be at this point in the fiscal year which would be 80,000 signed by the fiscal year’s end date of October 1st. The Marines have also faced their biggest recruitment deficit in over a decade. At issue is whether enough positions will be filled in order to effectively fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an effort to deal with its challenge the Department of Defense has introduced raising the cut-off age to be eligible to join the military by five years or up to 39 years of age. In addition recruits will be allowed to elect a 15-month active duty tour of duty plus training, which could eventually total 18 to 24 months depending upon the program in which they enlist. The Army’s monetary incentive for going to training was raised up to $20,000.00. And the Army College Fund was hiked from $50,000.00 to $70,000.00. Financial incentives were also raised for those eligible for re-enlistment. The military’s advertising and recruitment budget was also increased in 2005 to $4 billion up from 2004’s $2.7 billion spent.

But recruiters have been accused of resorting to telling potential recruits half-truths or deliberately leaving out discussion of the reality of joining the military at a time of war, according to reports relating to seven current investigations being performed by the Pentagon. There have been 480 claims of indiscretions by recruiters since October 1, 2004. Of those, so far 91 have been found to be true and 98 untrue. Rochelle made mention of only the seven ongoing investigations of which he was aware at his press conference on May 20th. Each and every recruiter is responsible for signing a minimum of two recruits a month. And although Major General Rochelle did not directly admit to consequences for recruiters missing their quotas, there are risks to a recruiters’ upward mobility and choice of units in which to serve, should they not adequately perform while they are on recruitment assignment.

Alleged recruitment improprieties have also caught the attention of Congress. On May 17, 2005, Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) called upon Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, for a special counsel to investigate the “extent of Army recruiting abuses and role of military policy and military and civilian officials in either promoting or authorizing these illegal activities.” Stark believes that neither the Department of Justice nor the Pentagon can conduct such an inquiry without conflict of interest since “both have been intimately involved in formulating and implementing the War on Terrorism that greatly depends on recruiting new servicemen for the Army.”

Also causing a stir is the battle developing between the Army and Parent Teachers Associations across the country. Unknown to most parents throughout the U.S. are the ramifications of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 under Section 9528 which requires school districts to release the names, phone numbers and school records to military recruiters or risk losing their federal funding. School records avail recruiters to a pre-qualified base of recruits. Garfield High School, one of Seattle’s top schools, has taken steps to try to ban military recruiters from its campus. Schools are not required to even inform parents whose children are under the age of 18, that crucial information on their children and access to them is taking place. Now, individual school districts are making an effort to give parents the choice of “opting out” of having their child’s information released or from having to attend recruitment functions.

However, some campuses have been open to recruiters at any time such as during lunchtime and break periods when recruiters approach children, often lingering in hallways and on school grounds. Such practice is known to occur in any Dayton, Ohio city high school, Los Angeles, CA high schools, Minneapolis, MN high schools, Santa Cruz, CA high schools as well as San Francisco, CA high schools just to name a few. All are school districts struggling with protecting their students without sacrificing federal funding. With access to phone numbers many parents claim recruiters make repeated phone calls to students’ homes.

The Army utilizes “The School Recruiting Program Handbook (USAREC Pamphlet 350-13) as a guide in the recruiting process. It lays out suggestions for recruiters to implement effective recruiting campaigns, including what to do or say in establishing rapport with teachers and then the students. The book describes the Army as a “product which can be sold.” Recruiters are encouraged to bring food and snacks to faculty and parent-teacher meetings, and to student clubs and school events. They give out Army marketing merchandise to students, and invite them to area concerts and public events of interest to teens, all with the hope of dissuading them from enrolling in college or vocational school. If a student is a senior and already committed to a program for the following year, it may prove difficult, but 16 year-olds who are not yet decided on their post-high school careers are highly impressionable, thus causing much angst amongst parents should their children unknowingly sign irrevocable documents committing them to service upon graduation.

As a result of the lack of disclosure to parents, William Cala, superintendent of the Fairport Central School District in Fairport, NY outside of Rochester, NY has taken it a step further. Calla has been in a three-year dispute with the government concerning the 9528 provision of the NCLB Act, as he believes his obligation is to protect the privacy of his students. He does not want to avail access of student data to the military without the explicit permission of parents. In March 2005 the U.S. Army sent a uniformed colonel to speak with Cala in an effort to resolve the dispute which is presently the only known school district in the country found to be in violation of Section 9528 of the NCLB Act. Cala claims he is not opposed to sharing information with the military but wants to leave compliance up to the parents’ discretion. He would rather see an “opt-in” policy rather than an “opt-out” policy, as notices to parents are handed out to students only once in the beginning of the year and are often lost and never seen by parents. If the form to “opt-out” is not returned to the school within a couple of weeks of the new school year, the parents have supposedly and unknowingly given permission for their child’s information to be distributed.

Assuming that the true disclosure of information being given to the military by public high schools is made known to parents of high school students and is mutually resolved in the near future, the main problem the Army and the Marines as still face is the ongoing war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With no end in sight it will be difficult to not only recruit minors but young adults as they realize that most will see action there. It has put pressure on our military planners and on the troops still serving who have already had multiple tours of duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Until the American people get a better sense of how long and how much of a role the U.S. will have in the Middle East, military recruiters face a continual and daunting challenge.


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