Those with kids or grandkids coming of cannon fodder age might find
this article useful.
Growing Problem for Military Recruiters: Parents
June 3, 2005
By DAMIEN CAVE
Rachel Rogers, a single mother of four in upstate New York, did not
worry about the presence of National Guard recruiters at her son's high
school until she learned that they taught students how to throw hand
grenades, using baseballs as stand-ins. For the last month she has been
insisting that administrators limit recruiters' access to children.
Orlando Terrazas, a former truck driver in Southern California, said he
was struck when his son told him that recruiters were promising students
jobs as musicians. Mr. Terrazas has been trying since September to hang
posters at his son's public school to counter the military's message.
Meanwhile, Amy Hagopian, co-chairwoman of the Parent-Teacher-Student
Association at Garfield High School in Seattle, has been fighting
against a four-year-old federal law that requires public schools to give
military recruiters the same access to students as college recruiters
get, or lose federal funding. She also recently took a few hours off
work to stand beside recruiters at Garfield High and display pictures of
injured American soldiers from Iraq.
"We want to show the military that they are not welcome by the P.T.S.A.
in this building," she said. "We hope other P.T.S.A.'s will follow."
Two years into the war in Iraq, as the Army and Marines struggle to
refill their ranks, parents have become boulders of opposition that
recruiters cannot move.
Mothers and fathers around the country said they were terrified that
their children would have to be killed - or kill - in a war that many
see as unnecessary and without end.
Around the dinner table, many parents said, they are discouraging their
children from serving.
At schools, they are insisting that recruiters be kept away, incensed at
the access that they have to adolescents easily dazzled by incentive
packages and flashy equipment.
A Department of Defense survey last November, the latest, shows that
only 25 percent of parents would recommend military service to their
children, down from 42 percent in August 2003.
"Parents," said one recruiter in Ohio who insisted on anonymity because
the Army ordered all recruiters not to talk to reporters, "are the
biggest hurdle we face."
Legally, there is little a parent can do to prevent a child over 18 from
enlisting. But in interviews, recruiters said that it was very hard to
sign up a young man or woman over the strong objections of a parent.
The Pentagon - faced with using only volunteers during a sustained
conflict, an effort rarely tried in American history - is especially
vexed by a generation of more activist parents who have no qualms about
projecting their own views onto their children.
Lawrence S. Wittner, a military historian at the State University of New
York, Albany, said today's parents also had more power.
"With the draft, there were limited opportunities for avoiding the
military, and parents were trapped, reduced to draft counseling or
taking their children to Canada," he said. "But with the volunteer armed
force, what one gets is more vigorous recruitment and more opportunities
Some of that opportunity was provoked by the very law that was supposed
to make it easier for recruiters to reach students more directly. No
Child Left Behind, which was passed by Congress in 2001, requires
schools to turn over students' home phone numbers and addresses unless
parents opt out. That is often the spark that ignites parental
Recruiters, in interviews over the past six months, said that opposition
can be fierce. Three years ago, perhaps 1 or 2 of 10 parents would hang
up immediately on a cold call to a potential recruit's home, said a
recruiter in New York who, like most others interviewed, insisted on
anonymity to protect his career. "Now," he said, "in the past year or
two, people hang up all the time. "
Several recruiters said they had even been threatened with violence.
"I had one father say if he saw me on his doorstep I better have some
protection on me," said a recruiter in Ohio. "We see a lot of
Military officials are clearly concerned. In an interview last month,
Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, commander of Army recruiting, said
parental resistance could put the all-volunteer force in jeopardy. When
parents and other influential adults dissuade young people from
enlisting, he said, "it begs the question of what our national staying
power might be for what certainly appears to be a long fight."
In response, the Army has rolled out a campaign aimed at parents, with
television ads and a Web site that includes videos of parents talking
about why they supported their children's decision to enlist. General
Rochelle said that it was still too early to tell if it is making a
But Col. David Slotwinski, a former chief of staff for Army recruiting,
said that the Army faced an uphill battle because many baby boomer
parents are inclined to view military service negatively, especially
during a controversial war.
"They don't realize that they have a role in helping make the
all-volunteer force successful," said Colonel Slotwinski, who retired in
2004. "If you don't, you're faced with the alternative, and the
alternative is what they were opposed to the most, mandatory service."
Many of the mothers and fathers most adamant about recruitment do have a
history of opposition to Vietnam. Amy Hagopian, 49, a professor of
public health at the University of Washington, and her husband, Stephen
Ludwig, 57, a carpenter, said that they and many parents who contest
recruiting at Garfield High in Seattle have a history of antiwar
sentiment and see their efforts as an extension of their pacifism.
But, he added, parents are also reacting to what they see as the
military's increased intrusion into the lives of their children.
"The recruiters are in your face, in the library, in the lunchroom," he
said. "They're contacting the most vulnerable students and recruiting
them to go to war."
The access is legally protected. As recently as 2000, said one former
recruiter in California, it was necessary to dig through the trash at
high schools and colleges to find students' names and phone numbers. But
No Child Left Behind mandates that school districts can receive federal
funds only if they grant military recruiters "the same access to
secondary school students" as is provided to colleges and employers.
So although the Garfield P.T.S.A. voted last month to ban military
recruiters from the school and its 1,600 students, the Seattle school
district could not sign on to the idea without losing at least $15
million in federal education funds.
"The parents have chosen to take a stand, but we still have to comply
with No Child Left Behind," said Peter Daniels, communications director
for the district. In Whittier, a city of 85,000 10 miles southeast of
East Los Angeles, about a dozen families last September accused the
district of failing to properly advise parents that they had the right
to deny recruiters access to their children's personal information.
Mr. Terrazas, 51, the father of a Whittier High School junior, said the
notification was buried among other documents in a preregistration
packet sent out last summer.
"It didn't say that the military has access to students' information,"
he said. "It just said to write a letter if you didn't want your kid
listed in a public directory."
A few years ago, after Sept. 11, the issue might not have gotten Mr.
Terrazas's attention. His father served in World War II, his brother in
Vietnam, and he said that he had always supported having a strong
military able to defend the country.
But after the war in Iraq yielded no weapons of mass destruction, and as
the death toll has mounted, he cannot reconcile the pride he feels at
seeing marines deliver aid after the tsunami in Asia with his concern
over the effort in Baghdad, he said.
"Because of the situation we're in now, I would not want my son to
serve," he said. "It's the policy that I'm against, not the military."
After Mr. Terrazas and several other parents expressed their concern
about the school's role in recruitment, the district drafted a new
policy. On May 23, it introduced a proposed opt-out form for the
district's 14,000 students.
The form, said Ron Carruth, Whittier's assistant superintendent,
includes an explanation of the law, and boxes that parents can check to
indicate they do not want information on their child released to either
the military, colleges, vocational schools or other sources of
recruitment. Mr. Carruth said that next year the district would also
prohibit all recruiters from appearing in classrooms, and keep the
military ones from bringing equipment like Humvees onto school grounds,
a commonly used recruitment tool.
He said that some of the information from the 11-by-17-inch poster that
Mr. Terrazas sought to post, including how to verify recruiters' claims
about financial benefits, will be part of a pamphlet created by the
school for students.
And at least a dozen other districts in the area, Mr. Carruth added, up
from three in November, are considering similar plans.
Unlike Mr. Terrazas, Ms. Rogers, 37, of High Falls in the upper Hudson
Valley, had not thought much about the war before she began speaking out
in her school district. She had been "politically apathetic," she said.
She did not know about No Child Left Behind's reporting requirements,
nor did she opt out.
When her son, Jonah, said he was thinking of sitting out a gym class
that was to be led by National Guard recruiters, Ms. Rogers, who works
part time as a clerk at the local motor vehicles office and receives
public assistance, said she told him not to be "a rebel without a
"In this world," she recalled telling him, "we need a strong military."
But then she heard from her son that the class was mandatory, and that
recruiters were handing out free T-shirts and key chains - "Like, 'Hey,
let's join the military. It's fun,' " she said.
First she called the Rondout Valley High School to complain about the
"false advertising," she said, then her congressman.
On May 24, at the first school board meeting since the gym class, she
read aloud from a recruiting handbook that advised recruiters on ways to
gain maximum access to schools, including offering doughnuts. A high
school senior, Katie Coalla, 18, stood up at one point and tearfully
defended the recruiters, receiving applause from the crowd of about 70,
but Ms. Rogers persisted.
"Pulling in this need for heartstrings patriotic support is clouding the
issue," she said. "The point is not whether I support the troops. It's
about whether a well-organized propaganda machine should be targeted at
children and enforced by the schools."
Laura Cummins, in Accord, N.Y., contributed reporting for this article.