In 2016-17, the U.S. Army visited Santa Maria High School and nearby Pioneer Valley High School in California over 80 times. The Marines visited Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria over 60 times that year. One Santa Maria alumnus commented, “It’s as if they, the recruiters, are on staff.” A parent of a high school student at Pioneer Valley commented, “I consider recruiters on campus talking to 14 year olds as “grooming” young people to be more open to recruitment in their senior year. I want my daughter to have more access to college recruiters and for our schools to promote peace and nonviolent solutions to conflict.”
This is a sample of what high schools, particularly in rural areas, experience nationwide, and the difficulty of confronting the presence of military recruiters on campus. While our nonprofit counter-recruitment group, Truth in Recruitment, based in Santa Barbara, California, views such military access as beyond excessive, as far as the military is concerned, now that the pandemic has closed campuses, those were the good old days. The Air Force’s Recruiting Service Commander, Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas Jr., commented to a journalist at Military.com, that the Covid-19 pandemic and high school shutdowns nationwide have made recruiting more difficult than previously.
Thomas stated that in-person recruiting at high schools was the highest yield way to recruit teenagers. “Studies that we’ve done show that, with face-to-face recruiting, when somebody is actually able to talk to a living, breathing, sharp Air Force [noncommissioned officer] out there, we can convert what we call leads to recruits at about an 8:1 ratio,” he said. “When we do this virtually and digitally, it’s about a 30:1 ratio.” With closed recruiting stations, no sporting events to sponsor or appear at, no hallways to walk, no coaches and teachers to groom, no high schools to show up at with trailers loaded with militarized video games, recruiters have shifted to social media to find likely students.
Yet the school shutdowns, combined with the economic uncertainty during the pandemic, have only made vulnerable populations more likely to enlist. The military also is aware of this. An AP reporter noted in June that in periods of high unemployment, the military becomes a more enticing option to teens from impoverished families.
This is apparent from our work. Truth in Recruitment has been working to reduce recruiter access to students in Santa Maria high schools where the demographics on some campuses are 85% Latinx students, many from immigrant farmworkers working in the fields. Nevertheless, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD) was pleased to report in June 2020 that sixty students from all the area high schools had decided to enlist.
As a group dedicated to regulating the presence of military recruiters on campuses, and their access to students’ private information, we are seeing the consequences of both the pandemic and recruiters’ aggressive social media campaigns. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) of 2001, high schools that receive federal funds must allow recruiters to have the same access to students as employers and colleges. This law is often cited when school districts say that they cannot regulate recruiter access to their students and schools. But the key word in the law, which shows what is possible, is the word “same.” As long as school policies apply the same regulations to all types of recruiters, districts can implement policies that regulate recruiter access. Many school districts across the country have passed policies regulating recruiter access, including Austin, Texas, Oakland, California, the San Diego Unified School District, and the Santa Barbara Unified School District, where Truth in Recruitment is based.
According to federal law, while districts are required to provide student names, addresses, and parents’ phone number, families have the right to “opt out” to prevent schools from releasing to the military further information about their children. However, now that teens have their own phones, recruiters have direct access to them – following them on social media, texting and emailing them privately – and have access to their friends in the process. Because of this, parental oversight is circumvented and a family’s privacy rights are ignored. Recruiters not only gain access to student’s through their phones, but through ‘surveys’ and sign up sheets, where they ask questions such as “citizenship status?” and other confidential information.
Recruiters online tactics can be dubious. For one example, The Nation reported that on July 15, 2020,the Army’s Esports team on Twitch advertised a fake giveaway foran Xbox Elite Series 2 controller, valued at more than $200.When clicked, animated giveaway advertisementsin the Army’s Twitch stream chat boxes led users to a recruiting web form with no mention of any giveaway.
Recent events reveal that building our military forces does not strengthen our country’s security. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the biggest threats to our nation cannot be stopped with military methods. It has also shown the risks that troops face from working and living close together, making them vulnerable to this deadly disease. In WW1, more troops died from disease than in combat.
The police killings of unarmed black people have also shown the ineffectiveness of force to ensure the safety of our communities. A young black woman on the news testified that she had considered joining the police force but changed her mind after seeing the systemic abuse of police departments, both in the killing of George Floyd and the way police brutalized peaceful protesters. Even more pointedly, the death of US Army SPC Vanessa Guillen, murdered by a fellow soldier at Ford Hood in Texas, after first being sexually harassed by an officer, indicates the unstated dangers that recruits can face.
How can those of us who are opposed to the current militarization of society in general and high schools in particular curtail the military’s push to meet recruitment “quotas?”
Step by step.
Because of the pandemic, TIR has had to adjust strategies and procedures; after winning the right, with help from the ACLU So Cal affiliate, in 2019 to table at high school events in Santa Maria – we are now faced with school closures. So instead, we have been conducting meetings, events and presentations remotely, utilizing services like Zoom. In fall of 2020, we met with the SMJUHSD and the new Superintendent in Santa Maria to establish a working relationship and so progress in our goals.
Throughout the pandemic, Truth in Recruitment has given online presentations to students and local community groups. The focus has been on the stakes of military careers and our campaign to regulate recruiters’ access to students. On social media, we have regularly posted about military recruiting tactics – in order to give students a more balanced view of what life in the military can mean and to recognize that they can choose nonmilitary career options. The presence of military recruiters on high schools does not serve an educational purpose. Our goal is to build student and family awareness so they can make educated choices about their future.
Kate Connell is the director of Truth in Recruitment and the parent of two students who attended Santa Barbara schools. She is a member of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers. Along with parents, students, veterans, and other community members, she successfully led the effort to implement a policy regulating recruiters in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
Fred Nadis is an author and editor based in Santa Barbara, who volunteers as a grant writer for Truth in Recruitment.
NOV 4, 2019 On this week’s Issues & Ideas: Truth in Recruitment is a student advocacy group working to reduce the presence of military recruiters on high school campuses. We hear the group’s concerns and what they are doing to expand access to information about post-high school options for teens. We also hear the perspectives of a Santa Maria Joint Unified School District administrator, and the U.S. Army captain in charge of military recruitment on the Central Coast.
Santa Maria Times Looking Forward
Let’s have college recruitment in our schools
Nov 1, 2019
Many parents and their sons are shocked when a letter arrives requiring the senior high school student to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) for a potential military draft. Now that women can also serve in combat duty, in the near future girls also may also be required to register. This applies to documented and undocumented alike. Enlisting is no guarantee of US citizenship, but failure to register with SSS before the age of 26 can bar naturalization in the future.
The presence of military is pervasive in our society, with its impact being felt most by the poor and people of color. It is critical that other avenues be open equitably to all young people.
Law allows military recruiters into schools that receive federal funds, though school districts may determine limits on this access. Truth in Recruitment, a local nonprofit, has been seeking similar and equal access for colleges and other educational programs.
Jenny, a junior at Santa Maria High School (SMHS), writes about how this has affected her: “I am the daughter of field-working immigrants, a student at Santa Maria High, and an advocate for educational rights. Before knowing about Truth in Recruitment, I began to notice that there was a strong military presence at my school. Why is it that they’re always here, and yet we don’t get people presenting about careers or colleges or vocational schools?
“I remember being a freshman at a meeting we had with the SMHS principal,” Jenny continues. “I expressed my concerns but, I felt uncomfortable as my principal, an ex-military man, put me on the spot with questions about why I felt the way I did about military presence at our school. As if it was totally normal to have recruiters and presenters in our classrooms multiple times each week.
“He promised to get us more resources to colleges and career days. But now as a junior I still see my peers being targeted through social media, classroom presentations, and an ever-present military-glorifying culture. Is this because we are people of color from low-income households? I want a college-going culture where we are encouraged to further our education no matter what our background is.
“I know that Truth in Recruitment will continue to push for a policy that regulates recruiters at our schools in Santa Maria,” concludes Jenny. “ I will continue to be part of that fight …and hopefully one day, we will change the culture of our country.”
The violation of privacy rights is a major concern. Parents can sign a document preventing their student’s information from being released to military recruiters but one parent noted that the Army got the information through student sign up at a raffle game at an Ernest Righetti High School (ERHS) Career Day in 2018. These tactics of collecting contact information directly from students, undermines a family’s right to opt out.
A Freedom of Information Act report revealed that the United States Army visited SMHS and Pioneer Valley High School (PVHS) over 70 times and the Marines visited ERHS over 70 times. Regarding a visit to one of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District high schools, the Marine recruiter noted, “Coordinated well with the Principal and Assistant Principal, both are very receptive to the United States Marine Corps and open up their school to use on a daily basis if needed.” (emphasis added)
We should ask the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD): does this high frequency of military access seem appropriate in a school setting and, if so, why? How can the district balance this access with that of college and job recruiters, not to mention groups such as Truth in Recruitment that present non-military options? Does this high incidence of military presence overshadow students’ awareness of other post-high school opportunities? What does the community want their schools’ culture to be like in order to support education?
Truth in Recruitment hosted a Summit on Youth and the Military on Oct. 12 at the Santa Maria Public Library. Speakers included veterans, deported veterans, and high school students and parents. Students reported that at a Santa Maria High School career fair this October, all branches of the military were represented but only one community college — Allan Hancock — had a table. No four-year universities or colleges were present.
If you share these concerns, please give public comment at the next Santa Maria Joint Union High School District school board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30-8 p.m., 2560 Skyway Dr., in Santa Maria. Through our organizing, we will advocate for a balance of information on students’ post-secondary options, and for the SMJUHSD to be more receptive to our community’s needs.
The Military Targets Youth for Recruitment, Especially at Poor Schools
“As students were coming out of classrooms, [recruiters] would be by the door waiting for them.” BY ADRYAN CORCIONE
JANUARY 22, 2019
Since its inception, the United States military has recruited teenagers to enlist.
During the Revolutionary War, when the military was formally established, young men were encouraged to fight for their country voluntarily. During the Civil War, conscription — essentially mandatory military enrollment for men of a certain age — was implemented, initially targeting men age 21 to 30. The draft was later expanded to include men as young as 18, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, and continued over centuries as a way to maintain a base of military servicepeople. In a statement to Teen Vogue, Lisa M. Ferguson, media relations chief for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said, “The Army seeks qualified individuals 17 [to] 34 years old.”
Since the draft ended in 1973, the military has relied on an all-volunteer service and has targeted young people, using strategies that include placing recruiters in schools. This is allowed because the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, requires military recruiters be granted the same access in schools as college recruiters.
The military markets to teenagers, particularly those in poorer school districts, because the armed services need a large population, and the sooner young people join, the more likely they are to stay and build a career. (According to the government, “184,000 personnel must be recruited into the Armed Forces each year to replace those who complete their commitment or retire.”) Modern-day recruiters sell the idea of an experience that often resonates more with poorer students because, for many, service with an honorable discharge can mean a free ride to college, or potentially a path to citizenship. (Only the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Dept. can grant citizenship, but the military can only accelerate the process. If a person doesn’t qualify for citizenship, they would still have to complete their service years in the military.)
The majority of today’s teenagers, however, aren’t interested in joining the military: According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Department of Defense, only 14% of respondents age 16 to 24 said it was likely they’d serve in the military in the next few years.
As enrollment drops, recruiters are finding new ways to market the military favorably to teenagers. For example, the Army recently began recruiting through video game tournaments in hopes of connecting with young people, according to Stars and Stripes. This strategy was announced after the Army failed to meet its recruiting goal for the first time in 13 years — during which time the Iraq War was underway — according to The New York Times.
Kate Connell, a coordinator for Truth in Recruitment, tells Teen Vogue that for an October visit to California’s Santa Maria High School, the Army brought a military truck equipped with a virtual reality helicopter game. She said a recruiter was on site to input students’ personal information into an iPad, “including their citizenship status, their GPA, what grade, their email.” (When asked whether the Army asks potential recruits about their citizenship, an Army spokesperson provided a list of questions the Army does ask its recruits; citizenship was not on the list.) The same recruiter, Connell adds, asked students about their career interests and mentioned college scholarships that the military provides to some enlistees.
“[Students are] participating in something that’s about the military, that glamorizes the military, [that] makes it sort of a game,” Connell says. She believes that the military’s collection of students’ personal information is the “main purpose” of their campus visits: to get leads. These recruiters also rely on programs for teenagers, such as the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) and U.S. Army Partnership for Youth Success.
The JROTC is a federally sponsored program that operates in public and private high schools, described by the government as “character development and citizenship programs” where retired servicepeople offer information and skill training to student participants, which can lead to scholarships for its participants. Connell says programs like JROTC and the Future Soldiers program (formerly the Delayed Entry program) make the military attractive to poor students, whose college options may otherwise be limited.
For kids who join the military, there’s often a signing bonus: an enlistee can accrue up to $6,000 through the Army’s Future Soldiers program, Connell says. “You don’t collect it, luckily, until you go to boot camp, but it’s that kind of incentive that, for someone who is low income, makes [the military] look like a path out of poverty.”
The term “poverty draft” came about in the early 1980s to describe “the belief that the enlisted ranks of the military were made up of young people with limited economic opportunities,” Sojourners reports. Rocio Cordova, program coordinator for the Project on Youth and Non-military Opportunities, describes this phenomenon as a “draft-like system that pushes nonprivileged people into enlisting because they lack access to jobs, income, and educational alternatives in their communities.”
This persists today, with many of those interested in the military saying they are motivated by the chance to attend college. A 2017 Department of Defense poll of young people shows 49% of survey respondents indicated that if they were to join the military, one reason for doing so would be to pay for future education.
Jesus Palafox, a regional administrative associate at the American Friends Service Committee, attended one of the most diverse high schools on the South Side of Chicago during the height of the Iraq War. The school had a JROTC program and was located a block away from military recruiting stations, he says.
“As students were coming out of classrooms, [recruiters] would be by the door waiting for them,” he tells Teen Vogue. “A lot of the times, they already had someone they were going to talk to. One of the things JROTC has served as is a liaison between recruiters and the instructors, so recruiters would ask instructors who was a good candidate.”
Citizenship is another reason marginalized youth may turn to the military. Palafox cites the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act — the first of many versions introduced in 2001 but never passed — as an effort supported by the military, which the Department of Defense included it in its 2010-2012 strategic plan. According to the National Immigration Law Center, numerous versions of this legislation would have given undocumented immigrants who immigrated as children a path to citizenship if they were to attend college or serve in the military.
Many currently serving in the military will eventually have the opportunity to receive financial benefits for college after their service, as many do not graduate college prior to enlisting. A 2017 military demographics report indicates that nearly 66.4% of the total force has earned a high school diploma, GED, or some college as their highest form of education. Although the Department of Defense doesn’t collect information about recruits’ household or family income, it does measure “neighborhood affluence” to determine “how well-off recruits’ neighborhoods were,” which is the closest measure, aside from education level, available on recruits’ class data, according to the fiscal year 2017 Population Representation in the Military Services report. The report indicates that nearly 20% of military members come from neighborhoods with median household incomes of $40,115 or less. (In 2017, the median U.S. household income was $60,336, reports the United States Census Bureau.)
When the draft was active, wealthier teenagers sometimes had the advantage of deferment, too. According to the Selective Service System, some of the most common reasons for draft deferment were college enrollment, being a minister, or an elected official. Even with the mandatory draft abolished, the Selective Service System is still in place and requires everyone who was male-assigned at birth to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The DOJ hasn’t prosecuted anyone since 1986, but failure to report could result in up to five years in prison and/or up to $250,000 in fines. If the draft were to be reinstated, students with access to higher education could still be able to defer for similar reasons, while many poorer students would not be.
“[Privileged people] have sufficient resources to meet their needs,” stresses Cordova. “They don’t require joining the military to travel or learn a profession. They have connections to help them get into jobs that pay well and provide benefits. They don’t need the military’s medical insurance coverage that sometimes motivates low-income people to enlist.” During the Civil War, it was common for wealthy men to hire substitutes to take their place in the draft, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
It’s important to note that the military isn’t the only option for poor students who want to continue their education. For instance, Palafox, through his job, helps teens fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, an application for federal financial aid for higher education. This is why Palafox urges young people, especially poor students, “to consider all their options before signing a military contract and to really get informed of what they are getting into.”
JUNE 27, 2019
Out of the spotlight, dedicated counter-recruiters around the country are steadfast in their organizing to cut off the human supply chain to the U.S. military.
Eighteen is the youngest age at which someone can join the U.S. military without their parents’ permission, yet the military markets itself to—which is to say recruits—children at much younger ages. This is in part accomplished by military recruiters who visit high schools around the country, recruiting children during career fairs and often setting up recruitment tables in cafeterias and hallways. As a result, most students in the U.S. will meet a military recruiter for the first time at just 17 years old, and children are getting exposed to military propaganda younger and younger.
The recruitment of young people to the military is as old as the military itself, and has become more and more normalized along with the general militarization of schools. According to the Urban Institute, more than two-thirds of public high school students attend schools where there are “school resource officers,” a name for school-based police. This police presences comes on top of the role of military recruiters on campuses, or at college and career fairs.
Counter-recruitment surged in popularity during George W. Bush’s Iraq War, when the U.S. military ratcheted up recruitment for the war. But these days you don’t hear much about this movement, despite the fact that the U.S. is still engaged in brutal wars, from Yemen to Afghanistan, and the Trump administration has been threatening war with Iran. Out of the spotlight, dedicated counter-recruiters around the country are steadfast in their organizing to cut off the human supply chain to the U.S. military. U.S. wars have caused innumerable deaths, created long-term hardships in occupied nations, and cost trillions of dollars. Counter-recruitment, then, is about starving the military of the labor it needs to accomplish these destructive missions. When working with students, parents and school leadership, counter-recruiters focus on a variety of issues, including the negative personal consequences that come with being a soldier and broader problems like racism and U.S. imperialism.
Kate Connell, the director of the California counter-recruitment organization Truth in Recruitment, a parent, and a Quaker, tells In These Times that one reason counter-recruitment efforts are so overlooked these days is that U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen out of the news. “I think that’s kind of what got people concerned and out in the streets” in the past, she says. Though this movement doesn’t get as much attention these days, organizers and activists say that counter-recruitment efforts remain critically important.
For the most part, activists who do counter-recruitment work in schools focus on matching or exceeding military recruiters in face-time with kids. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, military recruiters are required to have the same level of access to students as college and career professionals who recruit in schools.
Hart Viges, a U.S. Army veteran who has been volunteering in counter-recruitment for around a decade and works with Sustainable Options for Youth-Austin (SOY-Austin), says his role is to educate children using interactive tabling in schools. The group brings t-shirts and a “peace wheel” the students can spin to learn more facts about the military. Children also get to discuss how they’d like taxpayer dollars spent. For example, they might discuss whether they want to spend billions on war, or allocate that money elsewhere. Viges is blunt with them about what life will be like after time spent in the military.
“I ask them, ‘Do you like fireworks?’” Viges says. When they respond yes, he explains, “you won’t like them anymore” after coming back from a war. He tells them the realities of living with post-traumatic stress disorder brought about by combat, and how it does lasting damage to veterans. Being real with children about the military has proven effective for Viges. “There’s so many wins in counter recruitment I feel,” he adds. “I talk to kids who are thinking about joining and I tell them the realities of it, and you can see their minds start to change… With politicians it’s like a stalemate, but counter-recruitment is like a punch in the gut that will topple the military industrial complex.” Hart also talks to children about other issues connected to the military industrial complex that concerns them, such as war in general, racism, sexism and climate change.
Youth are active in this work, too. Jenny, a 16-year-old incoming junior at Santa Maria High School in California, interns with Truth in Recruitment. She tells In These Times that she got involved with the organization after a friend told her it would be a good way to stand up for herself and her peers who are frequently visited by military recruiters at school.
When she started high school, Jenny says she noticed that the military recruiters frequented her school, but other opportunities for students post-high school were not well represented. “I thought this was a problem, especially since the majority of us are students of color and I thought that we were being disproportionately targeted because we are people of color,” she says.
Angel further notes that many students at her school are undocumented, and she noticed that military recruiters were telling her peers distorted information about the benefits of military service based on their undocumented status. She says that after speaking to military recruiters, a number of her peers have said that they were promised they would get U.S. citizenship if they served in the military. While there is some pathway for non-citizens who serve in the military to become naturalized, this is not a guaranteed benefit. In fact, the U.S. government has a history of deporting foreign nationals who were employed by the military. “I always have to correct them because I don’t want them to join and not know the full truth about it,” Angel says. “We wouldn’t be seeing these things at schools rich, white students attend.”
The military does, in fact, tend to recruit in poor and working class communities, especially among Black and Latinx youth. The strategy of targeting poor, working-class, and Black and Latinx people for military conscription is known as the “poverty draft.” The tactics of this strategy can be seen in military recruitment efforts at schools like Santa Maria High School where Angel attends, and is evident in studies on the socioeconomic status of people who fought in recent US wars. According to a 2016 study out of Boston University and the University of Minnesota Law School, “Today, unlike in World War II, the Americans who die or are wounded in war are disproportionately coming from poorer parts of the country.”
Connell, the Truth in Recruitment director, says that the tactics used by military recruiters on children are “very much a grooming process.” She notes that branches of the military operate social media accounts, where they will follow and communicate with students who are potentially interested in joining up. In this way, recruiters have direct, unsupervised access to young teens, who may or not be discussing recruitment efforts with trusted adults in their lives. This type of behavior, Connell says, is “inappropriate.”
Still, the presence of the military in schools has become normalized. “I feel that the idea that the military is an untouchable subject as far as criticism or cutting the budget, [makes counter-recruitment] a really tricky conversation to have, so people avoid it.” The institutional power and not to mention funding and broad support that the military has makes counter-recruitment a challenge.
But the group has seen concrete results from their organizing and advocacy. Working with students, parents, and school and district leadership in Santa Barbara in 2014, Truth in Recruitment was able to convince the district to create better resources for parents to more easily opt their students out of having their information shared with military recruiters.
Though counter-recruitment is perhaps not as prominent as it was more than a decade ago, organizers in this field are unequivocal about the need to support students by offering alternatives to the military, such as college or the workforce. As the military continues to target children, especially in low-income and Black and Latinx communities, counter-recruiters will continue to work with children and their care-takers to offer safer, more dignified options for life after high school.
Readers React: Selective Service is ageist, undemocratic and immoral. Do away with it
TIR director Kate Connell‘s letter to the editor in the March 5, 2019 Los Angeles Times. Online it is in the Readers React section; “Selective Service is ageist, undemocratic and immoral. Do away with it”.
To the editor: Thank you for your editorial opposing mandatory Selective Service System registration. As a parent of two children, one identified male at birth and the other identified female, and a member of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers), I believe that the Selective Service System registration is ageist, in that it only targets youth; sexist, in that it only targets those identified male at birth; undemocratic, as it takes away the right to religious freedom; and immoral, since it takes away the choice to follow one’s conscience. I take issue with the statement at the end of your editorial, “Yes, of course, women have a civic duty just like men and should be called upon to serve if that time of need comes.” Eighteen-year-olds have done their civic duty by attending school K-12 and should not be mandated to be of service. Voluntary service is doing something passionately out of an inner call to help your cause or country.
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.
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 University of California 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 opt-out
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 district-wide,
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 (now the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA).
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 counter recruitment
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 district-wide 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.
Rethinking Schools April 2016
Education Action – Reining in Military Recruiting
In 2011, 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, (ESSA), 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 in 2011, 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 personally 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 of the ESSA. “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. She also worked with the Santa Barbara Friends Meeting, (Quakers), and the local chapter of 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.”