Youth Served: Military Recruiters Pin Hopes on High School Students
Ohanian Comment: We need to protect our youth. Seattle is making an effort. They break up their student directories, giving parents the opportunity to opt out solely from the list that goes to military recruiters.
"People have to remember that Iraq is the size of California and Baghdad is the size of Los Angeles. If the news reported all the deaths in Los Angeles on a daily basis no one would ever go to Disneyland."
--Lt. Col. Patrick Nary, U.S. Army 6th Recruiting Brigade
A federal appellate court last month struck down the Solomon amendment, a federal law that allowed the government to pull federal funding from universities that banned ROTC programs or military recruiters.
Left untouched was a little-noticed provision in a different law, the federal No Child Left Behind Act, that guarantees recruiters access to public high school campuses and student lists.
Military officials say high school campuses are a critical part of their recruitment effort, an effort that has increasing importance for the armed forces.
Standing at the front of a room full of Eldorado High School juniors and seniors recently, Sgt. 1st Class Darcy Tiedeman of the Nevada Army National Guard asked how many students knew what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.
Of the 25 students, five hands went up.
"It's OK if you aren't sure right now," said Tiedeman, who visits Clark County School District high schools as often as four times a week. "But you should know your options, and some of the best opportunities out there are in the National Guard."
Tiedeman handed out fliers detailing some of those opportunities -- up to an $8,000 signing bonus, job training in high-paying fields, free tuition at state colleges and $187.60 for working one weekend a month.
And while the words "Iraq" or "Afghanistan" are never mentioned during the 50-minute presentation, Tiedeman tells the students the possibility of being called up always exists.
"Could you be subject to a mobilization? The answer is yes," said Tiedeman, who did tours in Somalia and Haiti before leaving active service in 1995. "But I've been with the National Guard for nine years and never gone anywhere."
The days of Guard members and military reservists only being weekend warriors may be long gone. The Pentagon has increasingly called members of the reserves and the National Guard to active duty and sent them overseas to bolster U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a recent interview with American Forces Press Service, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall said the military is still figuring out what the war on terror will mean to reservists and members of the National Guard, but he said the expectation is "you're not going to be a weekend warrior."
"We're going to have to use you in a more robust way in the future," he said.
And that changes the pitch recruiters make. As the war continues to grind on, recruiters face a tough sell, and they have big numbers to capture.
In this fiscal year -- from Oct. 1, 2004 to Sept. 30, 2005 -- the Army is tasked with signing up 80,000 active duty soldiers, up from 77,000 the year before. Military officials want another 22,175 reservists, up from 21,200.
In Las Vegas, Army recruiters have a quota this year of 375 active duty recruits and 64 new reservists. The local Marine recruiting unit is shooting for 288 new recruits from Southern Nevada.
The Nevada Army National Guard needs 520 new recruits to make up for attrition this year and reach its goal of a force of 2,195 Guardsmen in the state, state officials said.
Lt. Col. Patrick Nary, of the U.S. Army's 6th Recruiting Brigade in Las Vegas, said the war is "obviously still a worry for everyone, but it's here and it's a part of life."
The worries of parents about their children being hurt or killed are some of the toughest questions to deal with, Nary said.
"It's a big decision to allow your son or daughter to go, but someone has to defend this country, and if not them then who?" Nary said. "It's a difficult choice, but we're still finding individuals who want to serve. The youths that we see coming in are here because they want to be."
Nary said that recruiters try to give recruits and their families a different perspective about the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"People have to remember that Iraq is the size of California and Baghdad is the size of Los Angeles," Nary said. "If the news reported all the deaths in Los Angeles on a daily basis no one would ever go to Disneyland."
The military pours millions of dollars a year into recruiting, using everything from the sponsorship of NASCAR racer Joe Nemechek to slick TV ads. But high schools remain an important part of recruiting activities in Las Vegas, Nary said.
He said recruiters have talked to high school students in home economic classes about becoming military cooks and have brought Humvees to auto shop classes to spur question-and-answer sessions.
Junior ROTC programs are another high school tool that recruiters use.
Recently two Centennial Junior ROTC graduates, Navy corpsman Alexander Temple, 19, and Nevada Army National Guard Pfc. Courtney Lowen, 18, returned to speak to the 242 students enrolled in the program about life in the military.
The percentage of Junior ROTC participants in Las Vegas who enlist in military careers varies from school to school.
Retired Navy Capt. Edward Hardeman, coordinator of the Centennial Junior ROTC program, said 60 cadets have graduated since the program began four years ago. Of those students, 29 percent went on to enlist in the military.
Both Lowen and Temple said when they were enlisting they didn't care for the sales pitches of recruiters.
"I'm not a fan of recruiters because they make promises and sometimes they don't come true," said Lowen, who is assigned to the Las Vegas-based 150th Maintenance Squadron and is trained as a field artillery mechanic. "I'm not a recruiter. There are lots of different places for lots of different people, but the Army is not a bad place to be."
Nary said that recruiters are told to focus on what they know when talking to recruits and parents.
"We can tell them what we know and what they can expect, but we don't have a direct spiel we try to give them," Nary said. "They have to make their own decision."
Boulder City High School tenth grader Kyler Ohl recently ran into a military recruiter at lunchtime on campus as he searched for the source of blasting rock music.
It came from a Humvee trucked in by the Army National Guard as part of a campus recruiting drive.
"It was awesome -- it had video games in the back and everything," Ohl said.
For a fleeting moment Ohl said he imagined himself tooling across a stretch of desert in the armored personnel carrier. But he said he knew better.
"I'd sign up but I don't want to die," Ohl said. Claire Shelton, a junior at Clark High School, said recruiters from various branches of the military have been a familiar sight since her freshman year.
The recruiters hand out T-shirts and water bottles, but the effectiveness of their sales pitches is debatable, Shelton said.
"People who want to sign up will do it anyway, even if they (the recruiters) don't show up," Shelton said. "And people who don't want to sign up aren't going to, no matter what. You don't join the Army because somebody gives you a T-shirt."
Kyler's father, Steve Ohl, said he had no problem with recruiters approaching his children at school provided they give a straightforward explanation of what life in the military entails.
"It's still a good career," Ohl said. "And it's definitely better than being unemployed and wandering around with no future."
Eldorado High School teacher Jesse Reed, whose class Tiedeman visited, said he has had four different branches of the military visit his students this year. While none of the presentations touched on the war in Iraq specifically, Reed said, the students are aware of current events.
"They'd have to be deaf and blind not to," Reed said. "I don't have a problem with recruiters coming here. They give them (the students) the facts and for some kids this could be a great chance."
After the presentation Tiedeman fields questions from the students and hands out forms for them to fill out their contact information. Students may check a box on the form stating they do not want further contact.
"If you don't want to hear from us, you won't," Tiedeman said. "But if you do, you should call us. I've got a stack of these (forms) and you might not hear from us for a while."
Typically half of the students in most school presentations request more information and ask to be contacted, Tiedeman said.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools that receive federal funding to give military recruiters the same access to students that is given to colleges and employers.
The act also stipulates that military recruiters must be provided with the home addresses and telephone numbers of all juniors and seniors, along with information that is shared with any other agency or organization, such as a college. Parents may opt out of the requirement by sending a letter to the school.
Some school districts in other parts of the country, such as Seattle, are breaking up their student directories, giving parents the opportunity to opt out solely from the list that goes to military recruiters. Clark County's database is not set up in that fashion, Robert Henry, director of education options for the school district, said.
"If you opt out of military recruiting, you opt out of all of it -- our list is one and the same," Henry said.
Clark County parents are told about the option in the annual back-to-school bulletin, and it is also included in a pamphlet about federal education law that is given to all students when they enroll.
Dawn Shupe, principal of Bonanza High School, said military recruiters are regular visitors to the campus.
"They're here once a month, sometimes more," Shupe said. "They seem to come more frequently as we get closer to graduation and kids are making some of those big decisions."
Neither she nor any of the other high school principals contacted by the Sun could recall hearing concerns from parents about the presence of the recruiters. District officials also said they were unaware of any complaints.
At Green Valley High School recruiters are as welcome as representatives from other career fields, said Principal Jeffrey Horn.
"They set up tables in the cafeteria, talk to students between classes and are very respectful," Horn said.
Agustin Orci, district deputy superintendent of instruction, said in the past five years he has heard of no complaints from either school staff or families about the presence of military recruiters.
"They're not giving our kids a hard sell by any means," Orci said.
Dawn Richey, who has two children attending Sierra Vista High School, was "furious" to learn military recruiters had been allowed to set up tables in the campus cafeteria.
Richey said she was also shocked to learn that federal law requires local school districts to make such venues available to recruiters.
"Something as serious as military service -- they shouldn't be at schools handing out T-shirts and water bottles making it sound like some big picnic," Richey said. "A lot of those boys sit around playing (violent) video games all day. To them the idea of going to war is romantic.
"They don't understand the reality."
Richey says the military shouldn't be able to sell itself at public schools, and she said she complained about the situation "to anyone and everyone."
She received little response.
Tiedeman said he is "intensely aware" of his responsibility to be up front with students -- and their parents -- about the risks inherent in a career in the military.
Because he recruits for the guard, he said he would "argue that we're more concerned than any other branch (of the military). We're the locals. These are our families."
Sgt. Maj. Aldo Martinez, head of National Guard recruiting and retention for Southern Nevada, said his recruiters always talk with the parents of high school students considering a career in the military.
"If the recruit is under 18 there must be parental permission, but any time we have a high school-aged person we want to talk to parents and family to create an environment where they all share in the decision," Martinez said.
Most often it is parents that present the most resistance to recruiters, Martinez said.
"The population is getting older and many of the parents now are from the Vietnam era and some still associate the military with that war," Martinez said.
He said parents want to know what their children will do in the military. The answer, though, is difficult to pin down given the times.
"Priorities change and different spots in different units open up, so we can never be sure," he said, "but we do tell them that if their son or daughter makes a six-year commitment there is a high probability that they will be mobilized once or twice during that time."
Las Vegas Sun
INDEX OF MILITARIZATION OF OUR SCHOOLS