Recruiters pitching military service
to high school students tout job training, college scholarships,
foreign travel and lifelong friendships.
A Palm Beach County peace group offers a different view:
Enlisting in the armed forces isn't like signing with a job
placement agency. War can kill you.
That's why peace activists say students who hear from recruiters
in school should also expect to hear from them.
"We want to be there to balance that perspective," said Javier
del Sol, an activist and professional storyteller with a gray
ponytail and a bandana knotted around his head. "The military has
money and personnel. But a few people can make a difference."
For now, the ideological battle will play out first
in Lake Worth High School, which claims one of the largest JROTC
programs in the world, in a town that is a center for counterculture
Through a pilot program this fall, students at Lake Worth High
could see peace recruiters in the cafeteria, career fairs,
assemblies, classrooms and JROTC classes -- all the places on campus
they now see uniformed military representatives. In time, Palm Beach
Area Draft Counseling, a Quaker-sponsored anti-war group, says it
will seek equal access to all Palm Beach County schools. And they'd
like their campaign to spread to Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Del Sol and Marie Zwicker, who joined the anti-war fight in the
1960s, say they're recruiters for peace. They'll counter claims made
by recruiters and distribute information on alternatives to the
armed services, such as the Peace Corps and college degrees in
diplomacy. And they say they'll tell students of their right to not
have personal information shared with representatives of the Army,
Navy, Air Force and Marines.
The pilot peace program appears to be on firm legal footing
because of a little-known 1982 U.S. district court ruling granting
the peace group, of which Zwicker was a member, the same access to
students and the right to hand out literature.
In the decades that followed, peace groups around the nation have
won similar cases. But principals continue to resist giving military
detractors access to students, said Oskar Castro of the National
Youth and Militarism Program, a Quaker group, in Philadelphia. If
the Lake Worth High School program moves forward, it could be one of
the few programs of its kind, Castro said.
School district officials in Broward and Miami-Dade say they are
not aware of any similar anti-military activism in their schools.
Lake Worth principal Ana Meehan said details must be sorted out,
but she's open to the idea of letting Palm Beach Area Draft
Counseling onto the campus.
"We're looking for a balanced approach," Meehan said. "From what
I've seen, veterans and parents are open to all points of view,
particularly veterans because they understand what democracy is. We
want students to hear a variety of options."
Geoff McKee, principal at Boca Raton High School, said he would
prefer that the group focus on alternatives to enlistment and not
speak negatively about the military. Many students in his school
with relatives who are veterans might be offended, he said.
"I can see how their message could be construed as
anti-patriotic, and they would have to be sensitive of that in their
presentation and have to put energy into not creating a disruption
in order to be welcome on campus," McKee said.
Erin Killian, 18, who graduated this year from the school's JROTC
program, said the peace group's campaign is unnecessary.
"The military protects the country and the people in it. We
should honor them and not right away say how horrible they are,"
Killian said. "People should know [war] is dangerous just by knowing
about history and growing up in this country."
Sgt. David Holley, an Army recruiter assigned to Lake Worth High
School, said del Sol and Zwicker have a right to speak their mind.
But he's skeptical of their viewpoint because recruiters can't force
anyone to join an all-volunteer military, he said.
"Nobody is going to stop them," Holley said of the peace
activists. "But it's really hard for them to know what really goes
on in the military unless they have experienced it for themselves."
The battle of ideas at Lake Worth High School may have something
to do with Lake Worth itself.
The armed forces recruit heavily in this working-class city with
a growing number of immigrants from Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico. The
high school's Air Force JROTC, with 475 cadets, claims to be the
second largest in the world. But Lake Worth also is the region's
counterculture capital, having spawned many recent anti-war,
Del Sol said the military is particularly attractive to poor
residents who struggle to find good jobs or money for college and
are eager to be accepted as Americans. For foreign nationals, the
Department of Defense offers an expedited citizenship program for
those who enlist.
Holley tries to visit the school cafeteria once a week to
distribute fliers, answer questions and meet potential recruits.
He's also invited to make his pitch to the JROTC class and the
school's magnet programs in medicine, carpentry, plumbing and
masonry, and criminal justice.
One of Holley's most useful recruiting tools is the Armed
Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test administered by the
Department of Defense. The test, given in 14,000 schools around
South Florida and the nation, is either mandatory or voluntary,
depending on the school.
In South Florida districts, the tests are given at the
At North Miami Beach's Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School,
for example, juniors who don't take the PSAT are required to take
the test. At Coral Springs High, Principal Anne Lynch said the tests
are voluntary, but students are encouraged to take it.
The military requires the test for prospective recruits, using it
to find and place cadets. The schools, which get the test at no
cost, use the information to gauge abilities.
In some schools, students sign up to take the test. In other
schools, all juniors or seniors are expected to take it. Principals
often aren't informed by the military that they can opt out of
sharing test scores and student contact with the recruiters who
administer the test.
In Lake Worth High School, the test is given to all 11th-graders,
though students can decline to take it. The scores, along with
student grades and home contact information, are provided to
Once the peace group is allowed into the school, Zwicker said, it
would begin to monitor the test to make certain students are told
that it's voluntary.
The group also intends to inform students that they can fill out
a form telling the school that they don't want any personal
information shared with recruiters. High schools must comply with
the requirement, part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind act, or risk
losing federal grants. Students and parents can opt out by
submitting a written request to the school district asking that the
information not be shared.
The No Child Left Behind act also guarantees that military
recruiters have as much as access to schools as college and company
Jean Schurr, who has had three children go through Lake Worth
High School, said she's used to getting calls and brochures from
recruiters. She'd like to keep them out of the schools.
"I feel the same way about anything. It bothers me that people
are handing out Bibles at school. It's setting things up for handing
out information on the devil next," Schurr said. "I don't think
you'll ever get recruiters out of the school. So people with an
alternative view should definitely have access."
The Palm Beach Area Draft Counseling group has had a history in
A U.S. federal district court judge ruled in 1982 that the Palm
Beach Area Draft Counseling group should have the "same opportunity
to distribute pamphlets, literature and related material opposing
participation in the military in the same manner military recruiters
are permitted to encourage participation in the military."
After the 1982 decision that granted the group equal access, del
Sol and a few others began to distribute materials to guidance
offices throughout the district. But the campaign ended with the
Cold War in the late 1980s.
The war in Iraq and a proposal in Congress to re-establish the
draft spurred the two Lake Worth residents to action. Del Sol said
he expects to have more help this time. Finding volunteers has
become easier because of a flood of young activists who have moved
to Lake Worth in recent years.
Students aren't getting the whole story about joining the
military in a time of war, said Zwicker, who was one of the
plaintiffs in the 1982 case.
Military brochures have been sanitized, she said. They no longer
show combat. And they focus on glamorous jobs, not the ones on the
frontlines, she said.
"We need to be there," Zwicker said. "And all the teachers need
to be aware that if they invite a military recruiter to a classroom
to give a talk about why it's good to be in the military, according
to the agreement, they need to be inviting us as well."
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