Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Don't settle

In September, I was lucky to talk to a couple of anti-recruitment activists as they toured the country promoting their new book, Army of None: Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War, and Build a Better World. Their visit and conversations with friends and family about young people we've known who have been recruited into the military, prompted me to write a letter to the editor of the La Crosse Tribune about military recruiters targeting young people under age 18.

The letter was submitted on September 30 and, after about a week and a half, I asked why it hadn't been published. I was told the editor was seeking a response from "the Army or the Defense Department." Finally it was published on October 18.

Within a couple of days, several angry letters were published, some from people related to military recruiters. They said I should be ashamed of comparing military recruiters to child molesters. I'm not.

I've received positive comments and calls from several people. I invited others to write in their own views on the matter. At least one has, but her letter has not been published. That's when I learned mine is no longer available on the Tribune's web site.

It's their space and they can do what they want, but by eliminating my letter (the negative responses are still available, by the way) they also removed links to the American Friends Service Committee website on Youth and Militarism that includes 10 Points to Consider Before You Enlist, information about recruiting in schools and a link to information about getting out of the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP). Please click Read More below to continue

By chance (maybe), at the same time, the Tribune published a three-part AP series on child predators in the classroom. Predictably, several teachers took issue with the articles which seemed to imply that child predation is rampant among teachers. Yet, the Tribune has not removed these articles from its web site.

My letter wasn't that great. With the Tribune's 250 word limit, a lot was left out. But, as the US prepares to attack Iran (with the support of the American people, apparently) and things bog along in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can bet the military isn't going to waste a penny of its $4 Billion annual recruiting budget by just going after 18 and 19 year olds.

It's an important issue, but the Tribune seems afraid to address it.

Meanwhile, recruiters and military representatives are in and out of our high schools like horses on a merry-go-round. Since the start of the school year, the National Guard, Air Force Academy, Navy, Army, Army wrestlers and Army band have been or are scheduled to be in our local high schools. Do you think any of the AFSC's 10 Points is available to students who talk to these recruiters?

Black River Falls High School, one of the poorest districts in the state, has given the military's ASVAB, vocational and career interest inventory. According to AFSC,
The military uses ASVAB to do targeted recruitment of young people. Recruiters give special attention to students in the 11th or 12th grade who meet minimum standards - what they refer to as "pre-qualified leads." They use test information (scores, name, address, etc.) to identify and reach young people they hope to sign up. Recruiters contact these young people by letters, phone calls, and visits to home and school. Students may receive calls from recruiters even if they say they are not interested in joining the military. One often-used tactic is to leave a message for a student telling him/her of an appointment with a recruiter, even if the student didn't ask for one. Just remember, there is no law that requires a student to join the military or to talk to recruiters.

The Tribune is our only paper. They devote whole sections every day to sports and on weekends to cooking and "leisure." They publish letters from people who are clearly nuts, including regular waves of them from folks who apparently live constantly in the United States of Fetuses. But let one letter in that offends the spouse of a military recruiter who "never lied to anyone" (yeah, right), and oh, my, we can't have THAT now, can we?

I hope people will write to the editor with their own views on military recruiting of children and not let them bury this important issue.

Here's mine:

Get the facts before enlisting


Parents, schools and communities work hard to keep our teens from dangers like sexual predators, alcohol and tobacco advertising, accidents and disease. Add military recruiters to the list.

Recruiters are focusing on younger and younger students who can’t really make informed decisions. They get contact information from schools, data miners and companies like Jostens. The Defense Department has worked with agencies specializing in marketing to children to develop recruiting tools like music videos and violent video games. Large bonuses and other benefits are promised but not always delivered.

Before they are legally old enough to sign contracts and without knowing all the facts, students are recruited into the Deferred Enlistment Program.

Parents and teens should consider: Twenty-five percent of all noncombat Army deaths in Iraq in 2006 were from suicide. Extended deployments are the norm. The “signature wound” of the Iraq war is brain injury. PTSD, alcohol abuse, anger and aggression and divorce rates are high for returning veterans.

Young women should also note that in 2006, more than 100 women were victims of recruiters’ sexual misconduct. Military women report high rates of rape and sexual assault and little help from the military dealing with these crimes.

The American Friends Service Committee has useful information for teens and parents. (www.afsc.org/youthmil/thinking-of-enlisting/10-points.htm). The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors has information about getting out of the Deferred Enlistment Program (http://www.objector.org/girights/delayed-enlistment-program.html)

Adults are free to enlist if they wish. But we should not facilitate or encourage military recruiters targeting teens.