The Realities of a Military Career; Truth in Recruitment Educates High Schoolers on Their Options by Richie DeMaria, Santa Barbara Independent April 6, 2017.
In late February, President Donald Trump proposed a $54 billion increase in defense and security spending, meaning an increase in military jobs. In Santa Barbara County, one group, Truth in Recruitment, presents regional high school students with the realities these jobs entail. Coordinator Kate Connell and intern Ari Cohen visit high schools to educate prospective applicants of what it means to join the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines.
“Our activism is directed to both students and families, to provide both with accurate information about what military recruitment really means,” Connell said. “All jobs have their risks, but a career in military is a really different choice. You can’t give 30 days’ notice; you can get thrown in jail if you don’t show up to work. You lose a lot of your civil rights,” and you could be asked to kill. “There’s kind of a sheen of advertising with the recruiting that glosses over the reality.”
The U.S. Army is looking to spend $300 million toward recruiting efforts, seeking 6,000 soldiers over the next eight months, Connell said. Truth in Recruitment has visited high school career fairs with information pamphlets, and at Santa Barbara High School, they erected temporary cemetery displays with tombstones representing 18- to 19-year-olds killed in action. What’s more, and most significantly, they’ve worked to limit how military recruiters visit area schools.
In 2014, Truth in Recruitment helped draft a formal policy change around recruitment within the Santa Barbara Unified School District. The new rules allowed equal access for those offering other post-secondary opportunities, ensured protection of student confidentiality and parent/guardian rights, and changed recruiter guidelines. In a departure from previous years, where there was no limit to recruitment visits, all military organizations are now limited to visiting schools twice a year with a maximum of three recruiters per visit.
Truth in Recruitment’s goal is not to demonize the military but to inform prospective recruits of the other options at their disposal. “Near Vandenberg, I’ve heard the word ‘only’ a lot, as in this is their only option, but it’s not,” Connell said, adding that there are numerous college options in North County, plus many different organizations serving low-income families for whom career prospects may seem limited.
Interview with Truth in Recruitment on KCSB about the 12/14/2016 display at Santa Barbara High School of the true costs of war, 18 and 19 year olds killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The station interviewed Truth in Recruitment’s coordinator Kate Connell, as well as a Santa Barbara High School student and Santa Barbara chapter 54 Veterans for Peace president Daniel Seidenberg.
Rethinking Schools April 2016
Education Action – Reining in Military Recruiting
In 2012, Kate Connell—a photographer with two children in the Santa Barbara public schools—learned that her son’s freshman seminar had a Marine recruiter as a guest speaker. Her son had challenged the recruiter, saying he didn’t like the way the U.S. military was always bombing other countries. At first, Connell thought, “Oh, it’s great you spoke up for yourself and spoke up for peace.”
Her second reaction was: “Oh, my gosh! The Marines were in his freshman class!”
Connell had a long, but dormant, history as an anti-war activist. When the Gulf War started in 1991, she was living in New York City, and she volunteered with the War Resisters League (WRL). Her main job with WRL was helping active-duty military file for conscientious objector status. Later, she relocated to Austin, Texas, where whe worked with Sustainable Options for Youth, visiting local high schools to stimulate discussions with students about “military myths.”
The shock she felt about the Marines targeting her 14-year-old and his classmates spurred her into resuming the activism she had left behind in Austin. The following summer, Connell started campaigning for stronger military recruiter access policies in the 14,000-student school district.
Although Connell was shocked that a recruiter could hold forth on military careers in a room of 9th graders, the practice is common. In 2011 a high-ranking officer in the U.S. Army Recruiting Command observed that recruiters across the country were increasingly relying on “guest teaching” opportunities in classrooms. According to U.S. Air Force recruiting data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), classroom presentations to 9th and 10th graders in Connecticut high schools end with the distribution of “lead cards” for students to fill out with their contact information.
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (see p. 18), which just replaced No Child Left Behind, continues the requirement that high schools receiving federal funding give military recruiters the same access to students as recruiters for colleges. But, according to David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace at the University of Notre Dame, the Pentagon spends more than $1.4 billion per year on recruiting. So military recruiters can afford to make far more visits. At some schools, military careers overshadow the other options being presented to students. Connell says that by early 2012, when the Marine recruiter visited her son’s classroom, military recruiters were visiting Santa Barbara high schools on a monthly basis, always bringing along “gifts” for any student signing a lead card. Of most concern to Connell is the rosy picture of soldiering that they present. “Their job is to sell the military,” Connell says, “and people who sell things have to bend the truth.” When recruiters operate in a school setting, “they’re bending the truth with very vulnerable clientele.”
This seems especially true when it comes to the messy realities of military service. Two researchers who surveyed Texas high school students in 2010 found that, among those who reported contact with military recruiters in their schools, 86 percent were never told about the risks of serving in the armed forces. In a 2013 study, a UCLA researcher observed a classroom presentation by Army recruiters in which they suggested that soldiers can choose whether or not to serve in war zones. In reality, soldiers have no choice in the matter.
Connell believes that the military should not be in schools at all. However, she concedes that, for the time being at least, activists must adjust to the legislative reality. “If they are going to be in schools, they shouldn’t have easy access. They should be regulated and the number of their visits limited.”
Organizing for Restraints
“Most people without students in middle or high school aren’t even aware of this,” Connell says. “Counter-recruiters are engaged in a lonely kind of activism.”
So, when Connell decided to push for a more stringent recruiter access policy, she drew on her relationships in the community. As a parent, she was active in her PTA. Past coalition work against gun violence had helped cement a relationship with several school board members. As a member of the Santa Barbara Friends Meeting, she got to know members of the national organization Veterans for Peace.
Connell met with an assistant superintendent during the summer of 2012 to discuss the district’s recruiter access policy. In response to her outreach efforts, Santa Barbara school board members decided to implement a protocol for the upcoming school year that set limits on the maximum number of visits by recruiters and curtailed their ability to actively solicit student information. However, since there was no enforcement mechanism, Connell knew the struggle could not stop there.
To better educate her community, she helped organize a public forum on military recruiting—attended by parents, military veterans, school board members, and even a local Marine recruiter. One outcome of the forum was a draft of a more detailed recruiter access policy. Together with Michael Cervantes, a counter-recruitment activist and member of Veterans for Peace, Connell continued pushing for the more detailed policy throughout the year. Then, last October, it passed by a unanimous vote of the board. The new access policy:
- Limits the number of times recruiters can visit a particular school (twice a year from each agency/organization). Before the policy, it was a free-for-all, and Marine recruiters visited every month.
- Prohibits recruiters from actively soliciting student information: “Recruiters visiting schools shall not at any time collect contact information directly from students or require it as a condition to participate in an activity or receive an award or gift.”
Policy Is Just the First Step
But the Santa Barbara activists still need an effective way to monitor compliance with the new recruiter policy. According to a 2013 planning document, also obtained through FOIA, the Navy’s L.A. recruiting district (which includes Santa Barbara County) has been engaged in “continued efforts” at “persuading most educators to relax restrictive school access” policies.As a counterpoint, Connell says: “I would like Veterans for Peace to take a more active role, maybe by setting up literature tables in schools and keeping an eye on the military. Peace people don’t have resources comparable to the U.S. Department of Defense. For counter-recruiters to successfully get the military out of schools, we need a long-range plan.” For the Santa Barbara activists, the next step is trying to replicate their success in northern Santa Barbara County, where schools have a “heavier military footprint” due to the proximity of Vandenberg Air Force Base.Three years into the campaign, Connell explains what keeps her going: “The military has just become so regular and acceptable—that’s the dangerous part of all this. If I can make it so it’s not perceived as normal that the military comes to campus every month, then I’ve been a success.” ◼
DRAFT NOTICES: JANUARY–MARCH 2015 Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft
Changing Military Recruitment Policies in High Schools – One Phone Call and email at a Time.
In the spring of 2014, I went to observe a career day at Santa
Barbara High School, where my son is enrolled. There were a
variety of organizations with representatives and literature tables.
The Marines and the Navy recruiters were also there. They were
soliciting student contact information. The Marine’s “survey” form
included questions such as, “Did you know that the Marine Corps
has a $150,000 scholarship?” and “Did you know that the qualifications
for the Marine Corps are higher than the standards of UC Santa
Barbara?” I told them that under the school’s existing recruiting
protocol they were not allowed to get student information directly
from students, and that they had to go through the Santa Barbara
Unified School District office.
I turned around and saw the school’s career counselor and
approached him, reminding him about the school’s recruiter protocol.
He didn’t recall that part of the protocol and said he would
talk to the military recruiters about it. I asked, “What about the
information they have already gathered from students?” I went
back to the Marine recruiters and repeated that they were not
allowed to solicit student information. I picked up the surveys they
had collected and said that I was going to tear them up and throw
them out. They consented, so I ripped them up.
I went to the Navy recruiters’ table and told them the same thing.
They had a binder with the protocol in it and looked it up. The Navy
recruiter said, “That’s correct, here it is, in ‘G.’” (G. Recruiters visiting
schools shall not at any time solicit contact information directly from
students or require it as a condition to participate in an activity or
receive an award or gift.) I said, “I am going to take this sign-up sheet
and tear it up,” holding it up for them to see, and they also said ok.
I discussed the situation more with the career counselor and his
staff person. I told them that parents have complained that even
though they had signed the district opt-out form (to bar release of
student directory information to college and/or military recruiters),
their children still received mailers and/or calls from the military.
Solicitation of information from students at events like this and at
other military recruiter visits was probably why.
I am a mother of two children: my son is a senior at Santa Barbara
High School and my daughter an 8th grader at Santa Barbara Junior
High School. I am also a member of the Religious Society of Friends,
Quakers. I have long been concerned about the frequent presence
of military recruiters on high school campuses.
For many years I have worked for what I call Truth in Recruitment,
along with students, schools and community groups, including
War Resisters League, Veterans for Peace, Project on Youth and
Non-military Opportunities (Project YANO), Sustainable Options
for Youth and Friends Meetings.
My work with the Santa Barbara Unified School District in California
began when a friend of my son contacted the local chapter
of Veterans for Peace. He was concerned about the frequent visits
by military recruiters on campus and requested that Veterans for
Peace provide an alternative presence. Around the same time, my
son told me that he had challenged a Marine who was a speaker
in his Freshman Seminar class (meant to help students plan their
futures and possible careers).
At first I congratulated him for confronting this person of authority,
but then I did a double take at the fact that a military recruiter
had been invited to his class to talk about career opportunities. I
contacted his teacher, who replied that the sergeant was not there
as a recruiter and that she had not selected him as a speaker. I widened
the circle of correspondence to include the principal, assistant
principals and counselors. The assistant principal also said that she
did not select the class speakers. After another parent and I met
with her, she agreed to have the military removed from the speaker
list for Freshman Seminar classes.
Still frustrated by the lack of action on the school’s part to
provide alternative viewpoints, a small group and I met with the
administration to discuss both the recruiter on-campus visitation policy and the necessity to provide alternative viewpoints. The
principal eventually agreed to expedite our request to have a display
of tombstones representing the 398 18- and 19-year-olds killed
in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students, veterans, Friends and
community members set up the display and read the names of the
dead at Santa Barbara High School during Memorial Day week of
2012. The local TV station interviewed both students and members
of Veterans for Peace. A similar display was again assembled at
the high school during the week of Veterans Day and on the next
Over the following summer, another group of students and
community members met with the assistant superintendent of
secondary schools (the district has three traditional high schools)
to discuss the district recruiter policy, as well as the text for the optout
form, which enables students and families to block the release
of information to recruiters. At the suggestion of the Santa Barbara
High School principal, a group of us began drafting a districtwide,
detailed policy regarding recruiter access to our youth, which would
provide guidelines to navigate the various issues set forth by the
No Child Left Behind Act.
Under this law, federal funding for K-12 schools is only available
to those institutions that give military recruiters the same school
access that is given to recruiters for colleges and civilian employers.
Most schools have interpreted this to mean that the military must
be given unlimited access to high school campuses. In actuality,
they can enact policies that regulate and limit the amount and
kind of access that recruiters can have, as long as the same policies
apply to all of the recruiter categories.
As we worked on the Santa Barbara policy, we felt that it was
important to reach out to the wider community and bring more
people into the discussion. We decided to organize an educational
forum — “Military Recruiters on our High School Campuses – Why?”
— which took place on March 15, 2014, with a panel of counterrecruitment
advocates, veterans, and military families. We reached
out to the press and invited school board members, administrators,
teachers, students, families, and veterans. Two weeks later, there
was a follow-up meeting with attendees of the forum to discuss
how it went and to draft a policy based on San Diego Unified School
District’s recruiting policy.
In April we met with two school board members and presented
a draft policy. The board members were enthusiastic, suggesting
that it could come before the board as early as the summer and be
passed before the 2014 school year started!
In July the board president notified me that the policy
would be on that month’s agenda. I discovered it the day before the
meeting, giving me little time to encourage people to attend. Also,
I learned that the proposed ‘policy’ was just a one-page summary
and lacked critical details.
But sometimes all that is needed is a little preparation and a
few willing people to show up. The Santa Barbara Friends Meeting
Peace committee was able to review the policy and discuss what
position to take. I decided to ask the board to keep working on the
policy since it was a “conference agenda item,” not an “action item”
— meaning it would not come up for a vote that night.
At the school board meeting, the board president noted our
public comments about the incompleteness of the proposed policy.
She projected the original draft policy we had sent her so that all
in the room could review it. Each board member and the superintendent
offered concerns about various details in our policy. The
board asked the superintendent to bring it back to the principals for
their edits and additions before holding a vote at a later date. The
next day I sent an email to the board members and superintendent
addressing what I saw as their primary concerns.
After the school year began, I sent an email to the board asking
for an update on the policy’s status. The board president notified
me that it would be an action item on the October agenda. This
time we had a couple weeks’ notice and so were able to get more
people to come and give public comments. Usually there is a 2- to
3-minute time limit for each person to make public comments on
agenda items. We needed enough speakers to address multiple
parts of the policy.
Although much closer to the original draft, the revised policy
was still flawed, with vague definitions, redundant additions, and
vagueness on enforcement of the regulations. Ten people gave
public comment — educators, veterans, students, parents — and as
many more came in support of the policy. The policy passed unanimously
with one change, which clarified the definition of a recruiter,
as well as a plan by the board to create a Memo of Understanding
regarding campus access for Santa Barbara City College and the
University of California at Santa Barbara. Needless to say, we were
all relieved that the policy had passed, despite shortcomings, so
that we could move on to make sure the policy was enforced and to
provide alternative points of view about the military in our schools.
Some have questioned why we organized to craft a district policy
regulating recruiter access to our campuses. Part of education is to
think critically and pose questions. The military presence on school
campuses is a complex and controversial issue, and students and
parents must be involved to make long-lasting changes. So to pose
another question: who are our schools in service of — students or
recruiters? A goal of recruitment, like advertising, is to make a sale.
Sometimes selling involves leaving out information or exaggerating
the facts. It is the responsibility of our schools to make sure that
students have accurate information to make informed choices and
to shield them from overexposure to recruiters.
What has been important for me in working for the demilitarization
of schools is the building of relationships with administrators,
school board members, students, veterans, teachers, families and
community members. If anyone feels that they have been dismissed
as part of the process, they are not going to feel engaged
in enforcing a policy that treats students and families fairly. The
point for me in pushing for alternatives to a military dominant
culture is not to win an argument, defend my position, or to make
a point. My intent has been to be of service to the community
that educates our youth. Having positive exchanges and nurturing
long-term relationships is integral to bringing forth the truth
about recruitment in schools. We accomplished a great deal with
establishing protocols at the local high schools and then passing
the districtwide school policy. We now have a grassroots base for
further work in providing alternative views to youth and families.
It is possible that we can broaden our base to include more youth
and a diverse spectrum of voices in this struggle.