By Juleyka Lantigua
I’ve been helping a high-school senior with his college applications, but the military had other plans for him.
Without his parents’ permission, a recruiter set up an appointment with him at his home while his folks were at work.
After the son informed his father of the impending visit by a recruiter whose name he did not know and whom he had no way of contacting, his father, understandably alarmed, called me.
As an immigrant from Colombia with little understanding of the U.S. military, he was fearful that the visit meant his son would be drafted, or that he would be convinced not to go to college next year. He was also enraged. How dare the recruiter insinuate himself into his house in his absence? How dare he make an appointment with his son without his consent? I assured him that his son was under no obligation to enlist. After our conversation, he had a talk with his son, and they agreed that the son would ignore that recruiter and any other military representative.
Their experience may soon be an all-too-common one, as the military has bullied schools into giving them special access to students.
Under a provision written into the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, Congress made it mandatory for high schools to provide military recruiters access to juniors and seniors, including names, addresses and telephone numbers. Generally, schools were required to give military recruiters equal access to students as they did to institutions of higher learning, such as colleges and universities.
The new law makes it compulsory and punishable not to comply. “Schools that do not comply... could jeopardize their receipt of (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) funds.” Considering that a majority of public schools, including 22,000 high schools, receive money from this 1965 federal regulation, schools find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
“The Department of Education and Department of Defense... encourage you to examine the (guidelines) carefully and to work closely with military recruiters as they carry out their important public responsibilities,” wrote Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of Education Rod Paige in a memo to schools last month.
The guidelines claim that turning over the information is “generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy,” and parents do have an opt-out option. They can request a Student Date Release Form for Military Recruitment from their child’s school and withdraw the student’s name and contact information from the list provided to recruiters.
The armed forces have a long-standing tradition of recruiting soldiers of color and sending them off to the frontlines. During the Vietnam War, some 80,000 Latinos served and incurred about 19 percent of all casualties. The irony is that Latinos only made up roughly 4.5 percent of the total population then.
Today, military recruiters go out of their way to lure students with an array of inflated promises of cash bonuses, loan repayments, college scholarships and exotic-sounding assignments.
The Marines Web site reads like a travel brochure. “Marines are constantly exposed to new experiences. No matter where you go as a Marine, you’ll have much to see and do.”
Under the heading “Things to see and do,” the site gives enticing descriptions of the areas where Marine bases are located. “Georgetown and D.C. offer an exciting and diverse night life with many all-age night clubs and young energetic people from everywhere.” Beaufort, S.C., is “a gateway for dozens of islands, resorts and world-famous golf courses. The historic district reflects the old south with its horse-drawn carriages tour and pre-Civil War buildings and homes.”
Joining the Marines, Army, the air Force or Navy is a viable option for many high-school seniors, but that should be the student’s choice, not a decision made under pressure from aggressive recruiters, or under false promises of Club-Med-like experiences.
As for my friend’s son, I know he’ll be better off at college.
Jaleyka Lantigua is a freelance journalist in New York City. She can be reached at [email protected].©Juleyka Lantigua.