School can be a battleground for recruiters

Military reps and pacifists vie for students' attention

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2006

When military recruiters visit a high school, they like to see students. When they visit Juneau-Douglas High School, they also see adults.

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Neither group of grownups likes to see the other. Founded by the Juneau chapter of Veterans for Peace, the Southeast Alaska Truth in Recruiting group has one purpose: "to make schools not conducive to military recruiters."

"Since the war started, we became aware of greater pressure to get people to join the military," said Amy Paige, a member of the group. "We believe schools are not the place to put pressure on people to join the military."

The anti-recruiters pass out literature warning students about the risks of service life - or service death.

Student opinion on the issue seems mixed.

"I don't think they (recruiters) should be here," said Lucas Merli, a 17-year-old junior. "I don't think they should be involved in school at all."

Tom Robinson Jr., a 16-year-old sophomore, says he is thinking about joining the Marine Corps.

"It's their job to get the word out," he said. "We definitely need more soldiers in the military."

Last week when an Air Force recruiter visited JDHS and set up an information table, the counter-recruiters set up a table of their own. Paige, the wife of a military veteran, was one of two staffing the table.

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While Paige stops short of claiming local recruiters lie, she claims there are "misrepresentations" in their program.

"Recruiters are under a lot of pressure to say anything to get kids to sign up," she said.

"They talk about job opportunities and may try to ensure they will get a job, but they can't promise that. They don't know what the military will need when that person graduates from boot camp. We want to make it clear to students that they be very careful before signing a contract."

Juneau recruiters say they support the group's right to free speech. But they also claim the anti-recruiters are misinformed or misleading.

"They hand out a lot of propaganda against the way the military recruits," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Bielefeld, the Army's recruiter for Southeast Alaska. "A lot of what this group says is inaccurate.

"Their biggest lie is that we tell them (possible recruits) they won't go to war. We tell every individual there is a possibility they will go overseas," said Bielefeld, an Airborne Ranger with almost 16 years in the Army.

There is indeed pressure on recruiters, Bielefeld says. But he maintains that he does his job "by the book." During the last fiscal year, he brought 26 people into the Army from Southeast Alaska.

Bielefeld says that outside the high school, discussions with the group have become heated. Southeast Alaska Truth in Recruiting was an essential part in the Juneau School Board's decision to limit recruiters to three visits per service each year.

• Will Morris may be contacted at william.morris@juneauempire.com.



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