W hether or not military service is controversial (see Michael Dobson's My Turn, "Recruiters, veterans deserve respect," on Nov. 16), the on-campus recruiting of high school students to participate in the Iraq War iscontroversial.
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Access to high schools is vital to military recruiters struggling to fill their ranks. The U.S. Army's School Recruiting Program Handbook (USAREC 350-13, Sept. 1, 2004) states that "school recruiting is critical to both short-term and long-term recruiting success" and that "school ownership is the goal."
This guidebook advises Army recruiters how to "effectively work the school market ... to obtain the maximum number of quality enlistments." The handbook recommends reaching students even before they are old enough to enlist. "Remember, first to contact, first to contract. ... If you wait until they're seniors, it's probably too late."
Juneau School District regulations allow recruiters from each branch of the armed forces to visit Juneau-Douglas High School three times a year. District policy also allows representatives from Southeast Alaska Truth in Recruiting to be on campus when recruiters are present.
Truth in Recruiting, at vfp-seatir.blogspot.com/, is a project of Veterans for Peace, Juneau Chapter 100. Contrary to assertions by Dobson and others published in the Juneau Empire, the group does not engage in "aggressive on-campus protests" and does not make students "run a gauntlet of harassment to get information about the military." It staffs a table, gives out information, and talks to interested students.
The group exists to help potential recruits understand the fine print in military enlistment contracts and to advise them about the realities of military service. The name Truth in Recruiting is not intended to imply that recruiters at JDHS are liars, as some letter writers have insinuated. The name is akin to consumer protection laws, such as the Federal Truth in Lending Act or the Federal Trade Commission's "Truth in Advertising" rules.
Nothing personal against our local recruiters, but we don't trust the government that misled us into the Iraq War to be completely forthright about the downside of serving in that war. We don't expect recruiters to volunteer information that might discourage students from enlisting. We think potential recruits should know about the risks and problems they may encounter during and after military service, such as marital problems, divorce, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to depleted uranium. They should know that veterans make up 25 percent of the nation's homeless. They should know about stop-loss orders and involuntary extensions. They should know that the military ultimately does not have to honor a recruiter's promises.
Veterans for Peace members acknowledge that military service can have beneficial aspects. It offers structure, direction, discipline, physical fitness, a sense of belonging, work experience, leadership training, travel, and an opportunity to serve one's country. It leads to veterans' benefits, such as education, housing loans, preferential hiring, and health care. All these positives, plus an array of financial incentives for enlisting, can be tempting to impressionable high school students. As with any serious commitment in life, they need to weigh the pros and cons. What you don't know can hurt you, so our motto is "know before you go."
Veterans for Peace members are available to talk with young people in Southeast and help them make an informed and well-considered decision about whether to enlist in the military. Our members have served in all branches of the armed forces. We have served in World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and between wars. We have served in combat and as conscientious objectors, officers and enlisted, volunteers and draftees.
We reach students through Truth in Recruiting and our annual scholarship for JDHS seniors. We raise public awareness of the costs of war through music, film, theater and art, weekly street protests, July Fourth parade entries and by writing, speaking and teaching in the community. We honor veterans and mourn their sacrifices with Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Iraq War anniversary events. We have provided phone cards to our troops in Iraq and financial support to severely wounded Alaskan veterans.
We welcome veterans and non-veterans to join us in working for peace and justice through nonviolence.
Ed Hein is a Veterans for Peace member, U.S. Army veteran and Juneau resident.