Recruit pursuit: Schools must give student data to military
by Lee Davidson
Shawn Jensen says military recruiters began calling him a year ago, near the end of his junior year at Murray High School. Calls have continued throughout his senior year, accelerating as graduation nears.
How did recruiters find his phone number and know that he will graduate soon?
"I have no idea," he says.
Actually, they obtained it from his school — by order of Congress. When it passed the No Child Left Behind Act to improve education, Congress required schools to provide student data to military recruiters, unless parents choose to "opt out."
Did Jensen know about that law, or that he could opt out?
"No," he says. "It kind of bothers me."
It is one of many little-known tricks of the trade that military recruiters have in their arsenal to persuade young people to join today's all-volunteer military, a job that recruiters acknowledge is harder as America continues extended conflict in Iraq.
Other tools — many of which are revealed through recruiting manuals obtained by the Deseret Morning News through the Freedom of Information Act — include building favor with influential educators by taking them on trips nationwide to military bases or offering lunch or breakfast meetings, not to mention regular doughnuts for school faculty.
The military also offers a test in high schools that it advertises as a helpful career aptitude exam, but it uses the results to identify prime targets for recruiting.
Recruiters also recruit students to help recruit other students.
They utilize federal laws that require schools to give them access to campus. They distribute there countless pens, folders, T-shirts, key chains and other freebies to help start conversations. They prioritize schools according to how supportive they are and visit highest-priority schools monthly or even weekly.
Recruiters try to become part of school communities by offering to teach classes or help train sports teams. They eat in school cafeterias. They appear at assemblies to present military-sponsored awards. They are at career days. They are among the biggest advertisers in high school newspapers.
All of that, recruiters say, is essential to enlist the number of defenders the nation needs while still avoiding a draft that could force young people into the military against their wishes.
Maj. David P. Bradney, commander of the Marines' Salt Lake City recruiting station, said recruiters don't even want to utter the word "draft."
"Nobody likes to say that word, because it is an ugly word," he said. "It's an ugly word for all military services. And it should be a word that we stay away from in a very democratic society."
With that goal in mind, the military is doing some interesting things.
Among the most controversial is the requirement in the No Child Left Behind Act for public schools to provide student lists.
Of 55 Utah high schools that responded to a Morning News survey, 96 percent said at least one arm of the military had requested such lists from them this school year — and 63 percent said all branches had.
Information released can be extensive. The Washington County School District says it provides "Student's name, address (to include Internet address), phone number, date of birth, grade level, extracurricular participation, awards or honors, photograph, video or digital images, height and weight (if a member of an athletic team), previous school attended, dates of attendance and parent's name."
Federal law requires schools to notify parents annually that they can opt out of releasing such information. But one of every nine schools surveyed said they did not know that and therefore did not alert students.
Military recruits take the oath of recruitment at the Salt Lake City Military Entrance Processing Station. Eighty percent of Utah's recruits come from counties along the Wasatch Front.
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
Even schools that did warn parents varied in how well they delivered that message. Many said it was handled by adding a line in the student handbook or with a mention at student orientation. Others sent letters home.
Riverton High School made it easy to opt out by checking a prominent box on registration forms — and had a whopping 1,628 students opt out this year, said school registrar Joan Hodges.
No other school came close to that. North Sanpete High School reported that 120 opted out; Payson High School said 70 did; Bear River High School had 31; Granger High School had 30; and no other schools responding statewide had more than a handful.
Comments added by some principals on questionnaires showed that incorrect information about opting out discouraged some students from doing so.
Some said students reversed decisions to opt out when told that meant their names also would not appear in student directories nor be given to college recruiters. However, the law allows students to opt out of releasing data just to the military without also preventing those other types of releases. Several principals apparently did not realize that.
Bradney with the Marines said he prefers that people without interest opt out.
"You're helping me refine my lists. If you tell me someone's not interested, that's fine. It just frees up the time that I would have spent calling that individual."
Tom Brown, principal of Grand County High School, is among those who dislike the program. "I am opposed to being required to provide our student information to the military. I feel it was a back-door effort on the part of the current government to gain access."
Others do not mind it. Richfield High School principal Randall Brown said, "I don't think it's a negative. The military options are certainly just that: options. . . . We should allow all options to be exposed to our youth."
A new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll asked Utahns whether — if they had a high school senior — they would want his or her name removed from recruiting lists. A 51 percent majority said they would want them on such lists; 38 percent would want them off; 8 percent did not care; and 2 percent did not know.
Federal law requires high schools to provide access to military recruiters if they also allow it for college or employment recruiters. It also requires colleges to provide similar access, or lose federal funding.
Shalese Andersen, right, hugs mother Diana Andersen after taking her oath. Women reportedly account for 20 percent of Utah recruits.
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
But not all schools are equal targets for the military. Manuals tell recruiters to prioritize schools into three categories depending on how supportive school staff is — how many recruits they produced in the past; how close they are to recruiting offices; and their passage rates on military entrance exams.
High-priority schools tend to be visited monthly, or sometimes weekly. Bottom-priority schools may never see a recruiter.
Of Utah high schools responding to a Morning News survey, 11 percent said they receive no visits from recruiters during the school year, 39 percent say they receive an average of only one visit per branch a year, 25 percent say they receive visits an average of once a quarter per branch, and 25 percent say they are visited monthly or more often.
An example of a school that never sees a recruiter is tiny, remote Big Water High School in Kane County. "Military recruiters don't want to travel this far for four to five graduates a year," principal Gary Young said.
Among the big, urban schools where recruiters are common is Alta High School in Salt Lake County. Assistant principal Ken Westwood said, "I'd say we have someone here recruiting about once a week."
Recruiters offer a wide variety of freebies — pens, pencils, calendars, key chains, folders, bags, hats, T-shirts, mugs, mouse pads and more — to attract students for conversations.
Schools can, and do, limit the frequency of access and where recruiters are allowed. Several said they limit visits to once a semester or year, while others essentially allow recruiters to visit whenever requested.
For example, Wasatch High School principal Vicci Gappmayer said, "We have informed recruiters that undue influence would result in a 'limited' access to our students. . . . We did this after a few parents complained about the pressure on their students."
Nationally, some schools have fought access to the military. This year the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case by a group of law schools that said they did not want to allow access because they oppose the military's ban on gays.
The court ruled unanimously that requiring such access in return for federal funding did not violate the schools' freedoms of speech and association.
Calling all seniors
Training manuals for recruiters state an ambitious goal: "make a personal or telephone contact with every (high school) senior and graduate qualified for enlistment" every year. Most local recruiters for major arms of the military say they achieve that or come close — except for the Air Force.
"Air Force recruiters are highly outnumbered by the other branches of service. . . . Most contact made by U.S. Air Force recruiters in Utah involves students that have already expressed interest" by responding to mailings or ads, said Staff Sgt. Daniel Short, spokesman for the Air Force's 368th Recruiting Squadron.
The military has specific plans on when to call students. For example, during the summer, Army recruiters are told to contact students who are between their junior and senior years to "plant awareness of the Army in their minds." It says that helps in competition with the other military branches because, "Remember, first to contact, first to contract."
The Army encourages a second contact during the first semester of the senior year when it figures seniors "will start to consider, possibly for the first time ever, their future plans and goals."
It wants a third contact in the early spring. "This is the time reality sets in. For some it is clear that college is not an option, at least for now. Let them know the Army can fulfill their aspirations later on," a recruiting manual says.
As students move on to college, Army recruiters are told to "focus on the freshman class because they will have the highest dropout rate. They often lack both the direction and funds to fully pursue their education."
And a good time to contact them, an Army manual says, is in December when they are home for the holidays. "Remember that many first-year college students do not return to school after the first semester. . . . How is their second semester financial situation?"
Recruiters don't just seek military recruits. They also recruit counselors, coaches and teachers to explain military benefits to students. They offer some perks for that help.
For example, some educators are taken on trips to bases around the country.
Locally, Marines take them to bases near San Diego every year. The Navy takes them to its Great Lakes training facility in Illinois. The Army takes them to Fort Benning, Ga. The Air Force takes them to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.
"Mix in some pro-Army selections with open-minded neutrals and undecided influencers. Choose people who can help," an Army manual says about whom to invite for such trips. It adds, "They are not junkets or rewards for cooperation with recruiters."
Short with the Air Force said, "It is very important to U.S. Air Force recruiting . . . to have people who are influential to students educated with the most up to date and accurate information" — which is provided on such trips.
Dan Puleio, spokesman for the Navy recruiting district in Denver, which includes Utah, said, "We're excited to inform educators about opportunities in the Navy," and such trips are part of that.
Besides trips, recruiters also often feed local educators while seeking their help. As an Army manual says, "A luncheon presentation of what the Army offers young people will enhance your relationship with the entire school faculty."
It also instructs, "Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month. This will help in scheduling classroom presentations and advise teachers of the many Army opportunities."
The military also recruits students to help recruit other students.
A Navy recruiting manual instructs, "Enlist a male senior in each school as early in the school year as possible. . . . The 1st Senior is the initial source of referrals, lists and other information about the school. He should be influential in the school because of a positive status (class officer, athlete, child of faculty, etc.)."
Deseret Morning News graphic
An Air Force manual adds, "Get as many new seniors as possible to attend the Commander's Call — make them honorary recruiters. Solicit their support to help recruiting efforts."
Also, meeting with those student helpers may increase overall exposure at a school. As a Marines manual says, "Arrange frequent meetings with keyman and other poolees at school to continually enhance exposure to the rest of the student body."
Test with an agenda
The military offered its Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test at two of every three high schools in Utah this year. Students are told it will help them choose a career or prepare for college, but military manuals say its primary purpose is to identify which potential recruits are qualified and interested in the military.
"The Defense Department advertises the student version primarily as a counseling tool" to help students choose a career, an Army manual says.
It also instructs recruiters to point out that the ASVAB "is a good practice test for the Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Test" college entrance exams.
But an Army manual says the top purpose of the test is to "provide the field recruiter with a source of leads of high school seniors and juniors qualified through the ASVAB for enlistment."
Also, some test questions specifically ask if a student has interest in the military. Those who do "are considered priority. This system allows recruiters to 'work smarter, not harder,' " an Air Force manual says.
Short with the Air Force said recruiters in Utah "promote the ASVAB test because it is an aptitude test that can help students find out where their strengths are. . . . It is not just a test to join the military, but a very valuable tool to counselors."
But he adds, "We utilize their results and their plans to show students how we can help them reach those plans and goals through Air Force benefits and programs."
Part of the school
Recruiters are instructed to work to become a visible part of each top-priority school's community.
Deseret Morning News graphic
An Army manual tells recruiters "to eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month. This will give you more visibility, and will help you identify potential candidates."
Recruiters are also urged to contact sports coaches "and volunteer to assist in leading calisthenics or calling cadence during team runs."
They are told to offer to teach classes on government or history, to volunteer to visit all classes with juniors to promote the ASVAB test, to advertise in school newspapers (and seek stories in them about recruiters), and to attend career days.
Army recruiters are also told to "attend athletic events at the high school. Make sure you wear your uniform" and have plenty of handouts about military scholarships and benefits.
Manuals encourage recruiters to offer color guards for school events, especially graduation. They are told to offer military-sponsored awards in math, music, science, athletics and other areas at school assemblies.
Quotas and results
Each year, about 3,600 Utahns join the military, based on estimates recruiters provided. That includes about 1,750 a year in the Army and Army Reserves, 1,000 in the Utah Army National Guard, 400 in the Marines, 250 in the Air Force, 160 in the Navy and 45 in the U.S. Coast Guard.
To attract them, the military has about 192 recruiters here — 68 for the Utah National Guard, 52 for the Army, 30 for the Marines , 20 for the Navy, 19 for the Air Force and three for the Coast Guard.
Recruiters say Utah has met or exceeded its recruiting quotas from headquarters in recent years, or been near them.
By contrast nationally, the military fell short of quotas in fiscal 2005 — achieving only 92 percent of its goals.
The National Priorities Project earlier this year obtained through a Freedom of Information Act how many recruits were signed by the Army (but not other branches) in every high school in the nation in 2004.
It reported that Washington High School in Ogden had the most in Utah, 17. It was followed by Hunter and Northridge high schools, 11 each; the Clearfield Job Corps Center and the Horizonte Training Center, eight each; and seven each at Ben Lomond, Clearfield, Cyprus, Granger, Jordan and Layton high schools.
It also said that 80 percent of recruits from all branches came from the four Wasatch Front counties of Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber. More than 80 percent of all Utah recruits were male.
Recruiters say Utah may be a bit above average in its support of the military and recruiting success.
For example, the Air Force recruiting squadron in Utah "was recognized as the top squadron in the nation in 2005, and the only squadron that met all goals in all (recruiting) programs," Short said.
The new Deseret Morning News poll also shows that 54 percent of Utahns favor military recruiters contacting high school students, 35 percent oppose it, 8 percent do not care and 2 percent did not know.
Bradney with the Marines said because Utah schools are good, more people are able to pass military entrance exams. Because of generally high morals, most youths avoid legal trouble that could bar military service. Fewer have tattoos, which can also bar service depending on whether it is visible and what it depicts. And many in Utah are patriotic.
For example, Anderson with the Army said that when new recruits were introduced on the field during a University of Utah football game, "There was a standing ovation. Obviously, people are very supportive in this area."
Recruiters from all services acknowledge their jobs are harder currently during a time of conflict in Iraq.
When peace prevails, "maybe you would have to talk to 10 people to find one who was interested and qualified. Now maybe you have to talk to 15, but we are still able recruit the people we need," Bradney said.
"In time of peace, there was no down side to joining the military. You could get money for college, some training and a great job. Now people know there is a real possibility they could go to combat," he said.
Anderson with the Army said, "Is it (recruiting) tougher? Yes and no. There are those who believe in the cause and want to step up, and there are those who would have joined if we were not in a conflict and say no thanks. I'm hitting almost 100 percent of my goal, so I wouldn't say it's impossible."
Bradney with the Marines notes, "The United States in its history, except for one other time (the Revolutionary War), has never fought a protracted conflict without the draft." He said until now, "At no time have we really tested the all-volunteer vision. . . . Volunteer service is a great thing. American society needs to understand that is good."
Of course, the federally mandated student lists and access and the perks for them and teachers help with that persuasion.
Deseret Morning News
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