War for the Kids 

Peace activists take on military recruiters

Soon after enlisting in the Marines, 21-year old "Michael" decided the move was one he was unwilling to make. His mother began researching the "delayed entry" program he had used to sign up, where a recruit is given up to a year before being deployed. She realized Michael was under no obligation to be shipped out. But that's not what his recruiting officer said.

Two weeks ago, the officer left an answering machine message threatening Michael with a warrant for his arrest if he didn't show up to be shipped out the next day, according to his mother. She told BW the recruiters continue to call, and asked that she and her son remain anonymous for his safety.

"I found out that recruiters, even though it states they are not to force or threaten (people who change their mind about the delayed entry program), will make those statements, but they have no right to do that," she said.

That's just one of the stories driving counter-recruitment efforts both across the nation and in Boise. Most recently, Veterans for Peace paired with the Idaho Peace Coalition to educate the community in a campaign against military recruitment.

"There are blatant mistruths and blatant omissions of information by military recruiters," said Dwight Scarbrough, who started a Boise chapter of Veterans for Peace after moving to the area in 2003. "We're trying to help young people find out all the facts before choosing to enlist, not just those that the military wants to promote to sell their product-which is you."

Liz Paul of the Peace Coalition said the group has worked on counter-recruitment for the past two years through projects like literature distribution, talking to students in class and working alongside military recruiters in schools to hand students facts sheets about the military and the potential risks of enlistment.

"There's been a spike in interest the last six to nine months at a national level," Paul said. "We have a few ideas under way to reduce the number of soldiers going into this war on a local level."

In May, the U.S. Army stopped recruiting activities for one day to review procedures used by its approximately 7,500 recruiters. According to CNN, the "stand-down" followed news reports of at least two accusations of recruiting abuse. In one, a recruiter allegedly advised a potential volunteer on how to cheat to pass a drug test. In another case, similar to Michael's, an officer was accused of threatening a man enlisted with the delayed entry program with arrest if he didn't report to a recruiting station. A month later, the Army announced that it had prosecuted 325 cases of recruiter fraud in 2004. Of the officers tried, only 35 were relieved of their duty.

"The Army's stand-down day basically admitted to the public that the Army was lying when recruiting our country's youth," said Nino Carpenter, a member of the Peace Coalition.

Aside from fighting against recruiters' hard-ball tactics, the Peace Coalition has also rallied against its legal recruitment practices, specifically regarding high school registration information and a section of the No Child Left Behind act that says schools are required to release this information to military recruiters or face a potential loss of federal aid. A student can "opt out" of having his or her name on the list, but must submit a form each year to the school, said the clerk to the Boise School District board.

Mountain View High School graduate Matt Denney, 18, campaigned against the military's ability to obtain students' names, convincing his friends and peers to submit opt-out forms and distributing counter-recruitment pamphlets.

"The problem with most high school students is that they're so used to having information from the military that when someone tries to explain how this stuff is inaccurate, they don't understand it's a bad thing," Denney said. "In high school, a kid is so exposed to advertisements about how great it is to be in the military and they don't get why recruitment is a problem."

Denney served on the Meridian Mayor Youth Advisory Council last year, and tried to convince the council to pass a resolution requiring schools to get written permission from a student before giving contact information to a recruiter. The resolution failed by a vote of six to two.

"The other students didn't understand how obtrusive military recruitment is," he said. "They didn't see how it's bad to give away student's information without their permission." Denney said he's seen his peers lured into joining the military with prospects of learning job skills and promises of advanced careers when they get out. But according to Boisean Benjamin Wood, who served in the Navy from 1995 to 1999, those promise are sometimes empty.

"The recruitment officers completely bamboozled me," Wood said. "The same thing that happened to me happened to four of us at the same time." Wood said he told his recruiting officer he wanted to join the Navy and be a "fire control man," responsible for the artillery. After taking the military aptitude test, Wood was told he didn't score high enough for his desired career, and the officer offered him three other job choices-the same options given to his three friends. All four men chose to work on submarines.

"He offered my three friends the exact same things he offered me, which leads me to believe he was trying to fill a quota," Wood said. "I ended up going to boot camp and submarine school. I was assigned to the U.S.S Pennsylvania and served as a grunt with no job for a good two years. I was destined for only the mess decks and the scullery, and the most menial jobs possible. It was quite horrible. I wanted to serve my country, and I did honorably, but these people wanted to fill a quota."

It is against this sort of practice against that Veterans for Peace and the Idaho Peace Coalition are fighting. Over the next few months, the group will continue to spread the word about opt-out forms for high schools, rally against recruitment at schools and career fairs and bring in speakers for community events.

"I want people who are ripe for plucking by the military to have a decent opportunity to be able to make a sound decision for themselves before they get into a system that requires a fidelity to orders and requires they give up civil liberties," Scarbrough said. "Many people, at the age of 18, are experiencing those civil liberties for the first time."

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