Cincinnati Public Schools students will soon be told all the things military recruiters don't want them to hear.
The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) is launching its "Truth in Recruiting" campaign in area schools next month. The organization plans to present high school students with alternatives to enlistment and to let them know that recruiters sometimes lie to kids while trying to restock America's war machine, according to IJPC staffer Kristen Barker.
Truth in Recruiting and counter-recruitment drives like it are growing in number across the United States in response to the Iraq war and stepped-up recruiting drives. The U.S. Army fell more than 6,600 recruits short in 2005, about 8 percent below its target of 80,000 new soldiers, according to a Dec. 14 Associated Press report.
"We are concerned that people are being misled and misinformed, and we have a real basis for that concern," Barker says.
She cites a Nov. 23, 2005 Channel 5 (WLWT) news report, Conduct Unbecoming, in which some local recruiters were caught on tape telling tall tales about the dangers in Iraq. In this report, an unidentified recruiter is heard to say, "It's dangerous. But it's dangerous walking down the street downtown Cincinnati, too. You see what I'm saying?
You have just as much chance of getting shot downtown as you would over there."
'A real sweet deal'
Barker says that a former student she knows was aggressively pursued by a local recruiter and eventually caved in and joined the Marines. This young man was poor and lived in an inner-city Cincinnati neighborhood, she says.
His recruiter picked him up every weekend, taking him to camps and to rock climbs — places he wouldn't otherwise have had an opportunity to visit — and told him that he would never have to go to Iraq but instead would be employed as a courtroom sketch artist. But there's no way the recruiter can promise that he'll never have to go to Iraq and see combat, Barker says; once you join, the military can place you in any job or location it sees fit.
Students are often lured with exaggerated claims about how much money they will earn for college by serving in the military, Barker says.
"It can be a real sweet deal for someone who doesn't have a sense of what lies after high school," she says.
A provision of the No Child Left Behind Act forces schools to share students' contact information with recruiters unless parents opt out via a written form.
Last year Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) introduced an opt-out system that gives parents the ability to allow businesses and colleges to have the information but denies it to military recruiters. CPS also has been forward-thinking in allowing Truth in Recruiting onto local campuses alongside the recruiters, Barker says.
"Most people in counter-recruitment around the country aren't able to get into schools," she says. "I really appreciate Cincinnati Public's openness to helping students make informed choices."
Tim Kraus, a teacher at Hughes High School, says that helping students make an educated decision is the goal of the program. Kraus says he and almost everyone else involved with Truth in Recruiting is against the Iraq war, but he avoids foisting his opinions on students.
"Many people who work in schools take seriously their charge of not dictating views," he says.
But even with neutrality as a goal, there's risk of reprisal for this sort of informational campaign, Kraus says.
"Everybody who lives in this town who feels similarly to me recognizes that repression is a possibility," he says.
Restricting their movement
One place that IJPC won't spend much time working in is Walnut Hills High School. The school has an active student body that isn't very receptive to recruiters, Barker says.
Traven La Botz, 18, is a senior at Walnut Hills and a founding member of Students Against War, which led a 150-student walkout at the school last year to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq (see Porkopolis, issue of Nov. 9-15, 2005).
Last year La Botz was part of a successful campaign to confine recruitment activities to the school conference room. Prior to that, recruiters could roam the school and had approached students during lunch and other activities.
La Botz is now involved in helping to plan the IJPC counter-recruitment efforts at other area schools and believes it's an important way to oppose the war.
"Being an anti-war activist, I think the war is illegal, immoral and unjust," he says.
Kraus says military service can be right for some people, but he wants others to know that joining the military isn't the only way to find a career. Alternatives include grants and scholarships from universities, mentoring and apprenticeship programs and exploring their abilities in civilian life.
"If they want to pursue a career in the military, they should go with their eyes open," Kraus says. "We're trying to get our kids to be conscious that, if they don't make choices, someone else will make the choices for them."
Kraus says many kids get trapped into taking second best — a career path by default — because they didn't know what else to do.
"What we're trying to do is to get them to compare and be thoughtful so they don't get a military recruiter coming in and promising them the world," he says.
For more information about Truth in Recruiting, visit www.ijpc-cincinnati.org or call 513-579-8547. The GI Rights Hotline informs young people about their rights before signing up with a recruiter; call 800-394-9544.