Local Marin Draft Counselors Advise
By Carol Sterritt
"In the largest sense, Marin's at-risk high school students are being drafted. They are being drafted, not through any mandatory requirement, but through the old military principle, that if you grab someone where they are most vulnerable, their hearts and minds will follow." -Marin County High School teacher
It has been a long gray winter. We Americans have lived through an election whose questionable result still tweak our brains, a war machine fighting in three countries, a deficit spinning out of control, a president chalking up negative approval ratings (so who is it that re-elected him?) and a mainstream press that is more flacks and hacks than journalists.
Let's turn from that saga of blight and deprivation to a lighter reality-we now live in a world without a draft. Our eighteen and nineteen year olds can bask in the splendors of youth in a way that other generations only dreamed of. The "ghetto eyes" of the young men who had served thirty-five years ago in Vietnam are a distant memory. The majority of young people see war only in the ads for "An Army of One" on TV and also in video games. These are dangerous views of war. After all, no young person ever dies inside a video game; they just hit "reset." That fact alone strengthens the idea of youthful immortality.
But on high school campuses across Marin County, long shadows fall as Army Recruiters patrol the school grounds. These people are armed with school directories containing names, addresses and other personal information of every junior and senior on campus, due to legislation included in the "No Child Left Behind" Act. These recruiters have one purpose: to entice and seduce the students into joining a "brotherhood" both patriotic and inspired. The reality of current military service, that is, traveling to exotic foreign lands, meeting the natives, and killing them is not emphasized. Nor does the alternate reality of going over to Iraq, Afghanistan, or (if you are chosen for "Special Ops") perhaps Colombia and getting killed by those "insurgents" receive much mention. For some of our young people, the ideas that fill their heads after a brief talk with a recruiter sparkle with motivation.
Recruiters often choose to paint a rosier picture than what the average Army or Navy experience might be. "What do you like to do?" they ask. And they tailor their sales pitch to the high schooler's answer. "You play in a band? Why, the Army/Navy/Marines has a band too, and it would not be much trouble to make sure you play your way through the service." Same rap goes down for sports. In a way it's true. There are bands and sports teams in every branch of the service. But any one youngster's chance of being in that elite mix is as great as winning the lottery.
The poor, the scholastically challenged, and the late bloomers are there as easy pickings for the savvy recruiting team. "So you don't know what you want to do?" the recruiter will offer, compassionately. They know exactly how to give their voice a sympathetic tone that contrasts with a frustrated parent's bellowing, "Well, of course you are going to college. You have to!" Lower middle class students, who lack the exposure to data bases of scholarships and the means to figure out exactly what one does to get free money, tend to view their college funding options as limited. Overcoming these obstacles would seem overwhelming to anyone, let alone someone still in their teens.
And, indeed, the process is an overwhelming one. Most American young adults need at least partial parental support to get them through the first four years of college. They jump endless hurdles of applications for grants, loans and work/study positions. For almost all middle and upper middle class families, this aspect of college funding, the who, what and how it will be paid for, is one of absolute frustration and craziness. Multiply that a hundredfold, and you realize what a low income family experiences.
Like a Fairy Godparent appearing when you need them most, the military simplifies this whole process. "Go ahead-sign on the dotted line, so the Army/Navy/Marines can take care of your college tuition for you," goes the dialogue. "It happens to be a pretty good deal, wouldn't you say?"
Many details are never discussed. For example, only 5% of all service personnel ever go on to receive the full $20,000 to $50,000 that is suggested on sign-up day. According to research done by the Center for Conscientious Objectors, 65% of those recruits who do sign up do not receive a dime for schooling, even though they have been required to pay a $ 1,200 non-refundable enrollment fee for that program. Remember, tuition fulfillment comes only at the end of a minimal five year service agreement, an honorable discharge, and also after taking a very extensive and difficult test. Half of all service personnel taking this test do NOT qualify for the tuition reimbursement, as they fail to meet the expected test grade requirements. The recruiters on campus somehow neglect to address these issues. Nor do they address the issue that with 1500 dead in Iraq, and ten times that many wounded, recruits need a good deal of luck in order to ever utilize the promised bennies.
Local Group Counters Recruiters' Propaganda
Fortunately for the Marin high school crowd, a group of four older adults wage a full scale defense to counter the recruiter's sales pitch. Under the auspices of "Marin County H.O.P.E. Inc.", these individuals have formed a collective that counsels those considering the military. Together, Denise Beck, Barbara Sykes, Gary Nelson, and Jim Brammell bring their knowledge of military recruitment laws to these young, often na•ve students. They lay out the truth behind the recruiters' hype.
They help would-be soldiers examine the questions that should be asked before they sign their life away. Just how many soldiers, once out of service, do get college funding? Just how valuable is the GI bill, when that funding is barely enough to let a veteran attend even a community college, let alone a name university? They can explain what you must do after you sign up, should you regret doing so. Their information helps a high schooler obtain a fully paid-for college experience, without the student joining the military.
Although the nation has not yet reinstated the draft, the team from H.O.P.E. consider themselves to be draft counselors. Those who know their work agree. As one teacher explained, "In the largest sense, the at-risk high school students in Marin are being drafted. They are drafted not through any mandatory requirement, but through the old military principle, that if you get someone where they are vulnerable, their hearts and minds will follow."
So what do the Project Hope counselors specifically do to handle this population's needs and questions? All four counselors have an easy way with the younger crowd. Devotedly, they table high schools across Marin and participate in discussions that allow anywhere from twenty-five to fifty students to learn from them.
Denise Beck relates an incident at Terra Linda High when a campus recruiter was attempting to persuade an African American female student to join up. The student told Beck that this recruiter made an appointment with her to discuss "financial aid" and "career options" in the military. Beck offered the student information dispelling many of the military myths and offering the student real college funding options and service learning opportunities.
All the counselors come well prepared with written handouts that detail essential facts. What personal qualities allow an individual to obtain conscientious objector status? Many young people mistakenly believe that to be declared a conscientious objector, one must be a total pacifist. But that is not true. You must indeed be opposed to all wars, but still you can acknowledge that should an intruder set foot in your house, you hold the basic right to self-defense.
Part of the counselor's task is to instruct juniors and seniors on how to most safely register for Selective Service. Although every male must register by or shortly after his eighteenth birthday for elective Service, one way to indicate that you are not military material is to inscribe your registration card with these words written in boldface: "I AM A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR OPPOSED TO WAR IN ANY FORM" printed in between the lines. Then the student must send a copy of this registration card to himself, registered and certified, keeping it on file so that he can authenticate the time period when he first became aware of his opposition to war.
Currently only males are required to register with the SS. However it is likely that over the next few years this will change. Should an eligible individual NOT register, they can face imprisonment and fines. Since the 1980's, millions of young men have violated this law by not registering and only twenty of these resisters have been prosecuted. Also, since 1985, no one has been convicted of this. More likely, a failure to register will make that person ineligible for Federal student loans, Federal mortgage programs, and ineligible for government jobs.
The counselors also explain that most students in high school are having their privacy rights violated. Since the passing of "No Child Left Behind" the Federal Government will not offer Federal Moines to any school districts that do not hand over their student directories containing the names, addresses and phone numbers of their juniors and seniors. Parents are legally entitled to "Opt Out" forms that will allow their family to keep their children's names off such lists. So the counselors always keep those forms on the ready.
Delayed Enlistment Hides Its Short Comings
Sometimes students are approached by the recruiters and offered the "delayed enlistment program." This program offers them the chance to sign up for the military but not have to go until they graduate from high school. The downside to this is that the junior is making a decision while not yet eighteen. The upside is, well, I can't think of one except that for the military, it is a very good deal. The student is convinced that they have entered into a binding agreement. Since they are not of legal age, they haven't. However, the mountains of correspondence mailed to their homes, and the occasional phone call, keeps them in the loop. Again, members of Marin County H.O.P.E. offer any student thus set upon a way to sort out this situation. Should the student change their mind, they can and must avoid taking the final oath, and avoid signing the final paperwork.
It is also mandatory that they write a letter to the commanding officer of the recruiting station, explaining the reason that they no longer wish to join the military. This letter should be sent to the commanding officer, as recruiters themselves receive bonuses for each enlistee and have been known to throw the letter into the trash
How is the "H.O.P.E." program received by local high school administrations? The team has visited every single high school in Marin County. They have had had eight teach-ins besides their normal presentations. According to Denise Beck, "The vast majority of administrators and teachers realize the value of our giving a balanced view and having dialogue among the students on such a controversial issue as the recruitment for the military on campus."
Beck also commented on the news that Charles Rangle's bill before Congress (HR 163) had fared miserably in Congress. This bill proposed a draft requiring service of all individuals eighteen and nineteen years of age. The bill had prohibited college deferments. But the defeat of Rangle's bill does not mean that there will be no draft. Such a measure could come about by Executive Order. Already there have been top-level meetings between executive level personnel and the Selective Service regarding a "Skills" draft. This "Skills" draft might be tailored for conscripting those deemed most needed in modern day types of war: linguists, computer experts, and engineers. Such personnel might find themselves draft-eligible until the age of thirty-nine. Certain reports indicate that this, or other just as serious conscription orders could come about as soon as June 15th of this year.
On the other hand, recruiters for the military do not hang out only in high schools here in the US They are now known to frequent villages and cities in Mexico and Central America, persuading the youth there to sign up for three years of service in exchange for a green card and possible US citizenship. Or perhaps the future of the military might expand to include an army of drones as the first wave of attack. Already there are reports that drones have flown across Iran in an effort to scope out the nuclear facilities of that country. Thus, future wars might be fought mostly from the skies, utilizing such drone-style devices. The drones will map out enemy territory, and shortly after, the Air Force and Navy bombers will follow with bombing raids, utilizing very few personnel on the ground.
Readers can check out the following Marin County H.O.P.E. Inc. recommendations on the web: Conscientious Objectors Site: www.nisbco.org (includes funding for college) Marin County H.O.P.E. Inc www.mpjc.shorturl.org and www.objector.org or phone 415 924 2347