At the 2006 4-A state basketball championships, Stephanie Ragland was struck by the military presence at the event. Her son Nick, a junior at Franklin High School, was playing basketball adjacent to a climbing wall and other activities set up by military recruiters. The military — which was a co-sponsor of the championships — also displayed literature directed toward potential enlistees. Ragland started to question the military’s recruiting tactics: What place did the military have sponsoring a sporting event?
Several Seattle area parents, school faculty and average citizens say they see the military presence in public schools and at other community events where young people gather as a concerted effort to coerce students to join the military. Yet recruiters see their activities as promoting national pride and values such as physical fitness.
“The intent is to be known within the community as a representative of the U.S. honor,” says Sgt. Gary Britton, Army 1st. Class. Sgt. Britton has been a recruiter for 15 years and also led a Boy Scout troop.
The Marines have separately developed a partnership with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to sponsor wrestling tournaments. Darin Hansen, a WIAA representative, says that the Marines “see wrestlers as having that tough go-get-‘em sort of attitude.”
Military recruiters often talk to students and ask them what their future plans are, says Hansen, and conduct short competitions such as chin-up challenges. The military has the same privileges as any other sponsor to set up activities or distribute information at a sporting event, he adds.
“We are looking for students who want to use the military as a stepping stone to their future,” says Sgt. Britton. But some educators want to ensure the military doesn’t have any special access to students.
Karin Engstrom, a career counselor at Garfield High School, is adamant about treating visits by the military just like a visit by college recruiters. Scheduled slots for organizations are provided twice a year. Students can come and talk to the recruiters if they choose. In 2006, no students came during the military visit, Engstrom says.
Public schools are required to give military recruiters and higher education institutions equal access to students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But a few peace activists are trying to combat the military presence in schools by setting up counter recruiting stations.
Judy Olson has been counter-recruiting at Cleveland High School for over a year now. She stands by school buses passing out forms so that students can opt out of being contacted by the military. Parents sign these forms to have their children’s names removed from the list of contact information that schools are required to release to the military.
Mailings from several different divisions of the military have come to the Ragland home addressed to Nick. They are later returned to sender, unopened. “You can’t avoid being contacted is the bottom line,” says Ragland.
Patrick Daughtery, a former elementary school teacher, mans a counter-recruiting table at Cleveland High School twice a month. “We just hope to plant some seeds of doubt about what the recruiters are telling these kids,” he says.
Sgt. Britton notices some of these seeds starting to grow. “There is still pride and patriotism in our country, though it is getting less and less,” he says. “People who have common sense see this as an opportunity to get experience... Those that prefer to help people, they want to protect people, that’s why they are serving their country.”
But there are other ways to serve the country, notes Ragland. “Why not push for kids to go to AmeriCorps or Peacecorps instead of the military?”
By LAURA PEACH, Contributing Writer
CORRECTION IN THE MAR 28, 2007 ISSUE:
(RE: “Be All that You can Be: Military recruitment at schools still a concern,” March 14).
Correction to the aforementioned story: Stephanie Ragland’s son Nick was cheering on, not playing for, the Franklin High School basketball team during the state championships when he encountered military recruiters’ paraphernalia, including a climbing wall. (Printed correction says Kathy Ragland's son...)
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/14/mar-14-2007-entire-issue