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News :: Human Rights
Vets, Students Standing Up Against Recruiters
26 May 2005
Ryan Donnelly, 20, spent May 21 at Navy Pier in Chicago keeping an eye
on military recruiters who were working the crowd the day after a
“stand-down” day wherein recruiting was suspended to retrain recruiters
in the wake of widespread reports of abuses.
Vets, Students Standing Up Against Recruiters

By Kari Lydersen
Infoshop News
May 24, 2005

Ryan Donnelly, 20, spent May 21 at Navy Pier in Chicago keeping an eye
on military recruiters who were working the crowd the day after a
“stand-down” day wherein recruiting was suspended to retrain recruiters
in the wake of widespread reports of abuses.

Donnelly handed out fliers with questions for potential recruits to ask
recruiters, questions the recruiters probably don’t want to hear. Like
why are so many vets homeless and in prison? Why do only 15 percent of
recruits promised money for college complete four year college degrees,
even though that is one of the main reasons many join the military? Why
do 90 percent of women in the military report sexual harassment?

High school and college students, teachers and parents around the
country are getting increasingly fed up with intensive and deceptive
military recruiting practices. In response, a growing
counter-recruitment movement has developed around the country, with
students, teachers, peace activists and many veterans and enlisted
people themselves working to get the truth out about military service.
The movement doesn’t oppose the war or military service specifically,
instead it counters abusive and deceptive tactics used by recruiters to
rush young people, disproportionately minority and low-income youth,
into signing up.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that receive federal funds
must make 11th and 12th grade students’ contact information available to
recruiters unless students specifically fill out a form to opt out of
the practice. High school students around the country report getting up
to 20 calls a day from recruiters. Many report being lied to, bullied
and deceived. Donnelly, a student at the University of Illinois in
Chicago, has a chronic illness which makes him ineligible for the
military, but he said a recruiter promised to help him skirt regulations
to go to boot camp anyway.

“I went up to one of the recruiters who is always on campus and told him
I was a little interested,” he said. “He told me he would help me cheat
on physical exams and help me get through boot camp, essentially he was
telling me he would help me lie.”

There have been 480 official reports of misconduct by recruiters since
October 2004, leading to the day of retraining. These include stories of
recruiters faking high school diplomas, advising students how to pass
drug tests, promising students they won’t go to Iraq (when in fact they
likely will), promising money for college that may not actually
materialize and threatening students that they will be arrested if they
back out on promises to join.

Fraud and abuse by recruiters has a long history. In the late 1970s, 427
Army recruiters were dismissed and 12,000 soldiers were found to have
been enlisted through fraud or irregularities in the previous 12 years,
according to an investigation by the National Youth and Militarism
Program. From 1982 through 1993, 2,801 cases of impropriety by Army
recruiters were proven and 1,496 recruiters were relieved. Similar
accounts of misconduct were proven in the Navy and Marines during this
time period as well. Anecdotes compiled for the report include a
psychologist working in a Virginia high school who witnessed a recruiter
offer a low-income student a $5,000 bonus immediately if he signed up,
obviously a blatant lie.

On May 20, the “stand down” day, students and teachers gathered at Senn
High School in Chicago to speak out against recruitment abuses and a
plan to turn Senn, located in an ethnically and economically diverse
area on the city’s north side, into a military academy. Community
residents have voiced strident opposition to transforming the school to
a military academy, with hundreds coming out to protest the plan. On May
20, which counter-recruitment activists designated a “Stand Up” against
recruitment day, a teacher spoke of one student who had a recruiter
visit his house threatening arrest if he didn’t show up for boot camp.

“The truth is you can get out of your contract until the day you ship
out,” said Tim Goodrich, 24, co-founder of Iraq Vets Against the War
(IVAW). “A lot of people don’t know that. Recruiters tell kids that once
they sign they have to go.”

Goodrich is among a number of vets who have traveled the country
speaking to groups of youth about the realities of military service.
Goodrich, who served as a recruiter himself at one point, said the
opt-out rule concerning schools giving out a student’s information
should be changed to an opt-in rule, where information would only be
released if students request it.

“Recruiters are calling kids all the time, on a weekly basis even if
they’re not interested,” he said. “They want to maintain contact,
because if anything bad happens in that kid’s life, if he loses a job or
he’s having a bad week, they might convince him to sign up. A lot of
kids come from broken homes where signing up for the military is a way
to rebel or get out.”

Goodrich, whose family has a long military tradition, says he doesn’t
oppose the military but wants people to know what they’re getting into.

“I’m telling people the truth about it,” he said. “They’re telling
people they won’t go to Iraq, that’s not true. They tell you it’s a way
to see the world. Well I spent four years in the Air Force and all I saw
was desert, I only got off base once.”

Fernando Suarez del Solar’s son Jesus was told that joining the military
would be a step in realizing his dream to become a police officer
fighting cross-border drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico. He
was told he wouldn’t go to Iraq. But he did, and he was killed there.
Now Suarez del Solar devotes his time to telling his son’s story and
warning other youth, especially Latino youth who are heavily targeted by
recruiters, about the realities of war.

He founded an organization called Guerrero Azteca aimed at protecting
youth from deception by recruiters. He describes his mission as:
“Teaching our youth that peace is a better path to continue a higher
education and military service is not the best option to attain higher
education. Military service should serve as an option to those who are
serious about their commitment in serving the country with arms, but not
for those who only seek to join the military service only to attain a
higher education or for the simple reason of being more ‘disciplined.’”

Suarez has spoken at conferences, high schools and community centers all
over the country, and has also toured with the American Friends Service
Committee (AFSC)’s Eyes Wide Open exhibit, a stirring display of a pair
of boots for every U.S. service member killed in the war, plus a vast
collection of shoes representing dead Iraqis. The AFSC, which
coordinated counter-recruitment efforts in a dozen cities on May 20, is
one of a number of national groups – including Military Families Against
the War, Iraq Vets Against the War and Operation Truth, working to get
the truth out about military service and recruitment.

“This is one area of the peace movement where people feel like they can
really have a concrete effect by telling young people the real story,”
said McConnell. “They’re passing out opt-out forms, letting young people
know they have an option. More people are getting involved in the
counter-recruitment movement, and as recruitment totals are going down
people really feel like they’re making a difference.”

McConnell noted that one of the major misrepresentations plied by
recruiters is that enlistees will have finite terms of service,
including a shorter 15-month enlistment which is now being offered.

“But with the Stop Loss policy, when you think your contract is over
it’s not really over,” he said. “The government isn’t keeping its end of
the contract. With Stop Loss, a 15 month contract can turn into many
more months.”

He said young people are becoming much more aware of the truth about
military service, but still recruitment can be a strong draw.

“When you’re a teen sometimes you feel bad about yourself, and here’s
someone who’s paying a lot of attention to you and wanting you.”

He described the plight of Texan Cindy Sheehan, whose son was told he
could become a chaplain’s assistant and never see combat if he enlisted.

“Seven days after he got over to Iraq,” McConnell said, “He was dead.”


Kari Lydersen writes for In These Times, LiP Magazine, the Washington
Post and other publications out of Chicago and is a youth journalism
instructor with the Urban Youth International Journalism Program. She
recently published a book on Common Courage Press called Out of the Sea
and Into the Fire: Latin American-US Immigration in the Global Age.
Email her at karilyder (at)
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