War is a touchy subject, especially given the near-palpable tension of the upcoming presidential election. If you’re against war, you’re a hippy at best, anti-military and unpatriotic at worst. If you’re for it, you’re pro-violence, anti-peace, an extreme conservative… Basically, you’re either too fat or too skinny, and the middle ground is essentially a wasteland. I’m not anti-military as we now know it, although there are certainly myriad issues. I do think increasing military spending when the military isn’t even asking for it, while cutting all sorts of important and necessary social programs, is absolutely ridiculous. But that’s neither here nor there.
There are some aspects of our military that are more controversial than others, and some issues really hit home—mainly because they’re happening here. When your teenaged son or daughter reports they conversed with a US military recruiter in the hall of their high school, you may experience mixed emotions. Maybe you feel socially obligated to support the military (or maybe you’re all for or against it), but you don’t want your child exposed to this particular career path. School administrators experience this same juxtaposition of thought—the men and women who recruit high school students may be exemplary human beings, and they’re simply doing their jobs. But recruiters are also asking young people to make decisions that studies suggest they aren’t ready to make, and, since it is their job to recruit people into the military, recruiters may not provide all necessary risk information to students.
There’s a Reason You Did Dumb Stuff as a Teen
The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which functions in decision-making, impulse control, and the ability to make rational decisions and anticipate consequences given multiple inputs, isn’t fully developed until near the age of 25. Now you know, at least partly, why you did all that dumb stuff in college. And in the context of behavior, image is everything—adolescents and teens tend to engage in the same types of behaviors that they observe in others, especially when those others rank high in the social hierarchy.
So in a world full of impressionable adolescents and teens (yes, I was impressionable too), we shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money funding movies and video games that make the military look awesome—the Department of Defense knows full well that adolescents respond well to imagery, and making blowing stuff up in the name of war look cool is both manipulative and irresponsible. Military recruitment trucks at events are full of video games—these may be for the purpose of demonstrating and testing hand-eye coordination and response time, but they’re still war-based video games, and children and adolescents can play them.
War is not a game, there’s no pressing a reset button, and the horrors of killing and of losing friends stay with you forever. In Iraq alone, we lost 4,487 American soldiers, and 32,223 more suffered debilitating mental or physical injuries, 20 percent of which were serious brain or spine injuries. Of those lost, 91 percent were non-officers, and 82 percent were active duty. 54 percent of US casualties were under 25 years old. Between 400,000 and one million Iraqis were killed—soldiers and civilians together—and millions more were injured. Lives and families were destroyed.
“It really made it real very quickly, it was no longer a game at that point,” said one US Army Iraq veteran, after losing his Company Commander and two friends, and witnessing multiple major injuries in a single day.
When US Army recruitment ads feature grinning soldiers spouting things like, “I’m in field artillery, I get to go out and blow things up,” and, “It’s a lot of fun, heck what other job can you fire weapons in?” we’ve got a major cultural problem on our hands.
Military Recruiting in Corvallis’ High Schools
The decision to join the military is wrong for some, and perfectly right for others. But we absolutely shouldn’t be asking kids below the age of 18 (and remember, research suggests even 18 may be too young) to potentially risk their lives and/or sanity, when many are not ready or even capable yet of weighing these risks. We don’t think they’re mature enough to drink alcohol, but they can risk their own lives and end others’.
Law dictates that various recruiters and groups—colleges, jobs, the military, etc.—must be allowed equal access in high schools. But locally—in Corvallis High School, Crescent Valley High School, and Philomath High School—military recruiters visit far more frequently than others, sometimes as often as once per week. Recruiters are allowed to set up tables in cafeterias and school hallways even when no other groups are present. Why aren’t we satisfied with a poster and some pamphlets?
The Army’s local high school recruitment quota, from the Alsea area to Sweet Home, includes enlisting three high school seniors (over 18 years old, or 17 with the signature of a parent) and three graduates per month. While we have a voluntary military in the US—we don’t currently have a draft—we’re not hurting for enlisted soldiers, so why are we actively recruiting such young people into potentially harmful, even deadly, positions?
Importantly, while schools—since the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001—are obligated to provide recruiters with student contact information, parents and kids can choose to be placed on a “do not call” or “opt out” list. And in some schools, such as Philomath High School, recruitment tables are positioned in such a way that students aren’t forced to walk past them, and kids don’t feel pressured to interact if they don’t want to.
“I signed the no contact paper, because we know what [our son] wants to do post-high school, and it doesn’t involve the military, so we don’t need that in the mix of all the information we’re getting,” said Melissa Harder, an assistant principal at Crescent Valley High School. “But I think if you don’t have a direction and you’re looking for one, this is an option.”
Truth in Recruiting
Jon Bartlow, an assistant principal at Philomath High School whose daughter joined the military through ROTC in college, is very supportive of our local military recruiters.
“I see it as a really positive option for a lot of kids,” he said, and that’s true.
But Bartlow also recognizes the need for groups like Truth in Recruiting, which provide kids with information about the potential negative consequences of entering military service.
“[My daughter] found out things after joining that she would have liked to have known before, such as if the military needs you, your contract can be extended and you can be called up again,” said Bartlow. “Those are things she wasn’t aware of.”
Truth in Recruiting, run by the local group, Veterans for Peace, is afforded equal access to schools as military recruiters, as per a 9th US Circuit Court ruling in 1986. Along with tabling at high schools and events, Truth in Recruiting checks each year to be sure the military “do not contact” option is available for students.
The president of Corvallis’ Veterans for Peace, Bart Bolger, is not anti-military. In fact, he’s a 24-year veteran of the US Navy.
“I try hard not to say anything derogatory about the military, but there are things students just won’t hear from recruiters or get by watching the glossy TV ads or visiting recruiting displays at big events,” wrote Bolger. “Students need more information than they’re given by recruiters to make such a huge choice. They need to know that the terms specified in the written recruiting “agreement” are binding on them (the students) but not on the military; that the government can change any aspect of their training, basing location, pay, etc. without advance notice or recourse by the recruit.”
While many military recruiters are frankly nonplussed that anti-recruitment groups like Truth in Recruiting are allowed equal access to students—recruiters feel that these groups don’t offer students anything more than negative information—they’re not against civilians questioning the decisions and actions of the US government.
As one local Army recruiter put it, “A lot of those voices and opinions, they keep me safe… We’ve got all this support from people who are against violence.”
Of course, there are certainly positive aspects of enlisting in the military, including the potential for a free college education, a steady-paying job, and a career for those who are eligible. But you don’t have to join right now. Take your time and think about it—even recruiters will tell you to do this. Ask others about their experiences in different branches of the military. Get a job, join AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, live in another town, another state, even another country. Explore your surroundings and yourself before making a decision that you won’t be able to take back for potentially close to a decade.
What You May Not Hear from Your Recruiter
Under normal circumstances, only a tiny percentage of the US population (1-5%) is eligible for military service. Prospective recruits can be denied entry into the military for medical reasons (including neck and hand tattoos), moral and legal infractions (drug charges, theft charges, etc.), inappropriate weight-to-height ratios, and more. But during the Iraq war, for example, waivers for the above red flags were given significantly more frequently than normal.
Here are a few things you may not hear from your military recruiter:
Unemployment rates for young Iraq and Afghanistan vets is 30% higher than for non-military 18-24 year-olds.
Your military contract is subject to change by the military (not you), and you have to abide by it, even if your enlistment time is doubled without your consent.
According to Veterans Affairs, 1 in 3 women in the military are raped or severely sexually harassed. The majority of female soldiers report experiencing some form of harassment in the US military.
If you enlist before college hoping to get a free education through the military, beware: you’ll likely not have time in the next 4-8 years to actually attend school, so your education may be delayed.
1 in 5 veterans returning from combat in Iraq or Afghanistan report experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and severe, often debilitating depression. Many of these veterans reported trauma involving the death or serious wounding of a friend, or that of non-combatants.
Emotional trauma is not limited to our soldiers—depression and anxiety disorders are prevalent in civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially amongst women and children. You may end up killing someone, or seeing others be killed or severely injured.
Given knowledge and proper understanding of these and many other risks, people still choose to join the military. If high school students do want to join, recruitment centers are always available to those who are interested. There’s absolutely no reason that we, as a socially responsible society, should be actively recruiting teenagers into military careers.
It’s Not All Bad
The military reports thousands of cases of recruiter misconduct every year. But most recruiters are legitimately just trying to do their jobs, and many were actually assigned their positions. The US military is not what it was even in the 1990s, in that veteran and family benefits are steadily increasing. Whereas 15 years ago, the Army, for example, essentially took the position of, “we didn’t recruit your spouse,” now families are treated with significantly more care. When a child in an Army family reaches high school, that family can apply for stabilization so that their child can complete school in the same location. You’ll also travel outside of combat, and learn highly relevant job skills. Finally, many military positions provide full medical (including dental, etc.) benefits for life.
If you’re set on joining the military, ask about ROTC options for college—while this is a competitive program, you’ll graduate from college without student loans, and as an officer in your chosen branch of the military. And while there are options to attend college and participate in the military at the same time, hold off—there are many cases of students being deployed before their education was completed.
Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Cogburn, a husband and father, is a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and was deployed within the US to aid in communications post-hurricane Katrina. He feels confident that he would have become a mature adult sooner had he joined the military earlier in his life.
“I probably should have joined the Army before I went to college,” he said, “I would have gotten better grades. You learn discipline, responsibility, and you grow up.”
Employment Options Outside the Military
Northwest Youth Corps, ages 14-19, 541-349-5055
Peace Corps, age 18 and up, 855-855-1961
Job Corps, ages 16-24, 541-342-1868
Oregon Apprenticeships, age 18 and up, 971-673-0760
AmeriCorps, age 17 and up, 800-942-2677
Local Military Employment Contacts
Army Recruiters, Albany, Oregon – 541-926-2699
Navy Recruiters, Albany, Oregon – 541-928-4942
Air Force Recruiters, Albany, Oregon – 541-967-1283
National Guard Recruiters, Corvallis, Oregon – 541-757-4117
Marine Corps Recruiters, Corvallis, Oregon – 541-758-0835
By Genevieve Weber