Uncle Sam Wants Them

Military recruiters are grabbing student info from local schools without parents' permission

My 15-year-old son jolted me out of my morning trance the other day with a question that sent my mind reeling.

"Dad, did you know that high schools are providing the names, addresses and phone numbers of students to military recruiters without permission?"

Looking up from my coffee, I replied, "What? Are you sure? How do you know that?"

Activist Gary Martiniak (center) distributes pamphlets urging Camelback High School students to resist military recruiters.
John Dougherty
Activist Gary Martiniak (center) distributes pamphlets urging Camelback High School students to resist military recruiters.

He said, "It's on Anti-Flag's Web site. Anti-Flag's a punk band that's against military recruiting on high school campuses."

It's not surprising that Joey got some real news -- news that I had no clue about -- from a punk rock band. He loves the Ramones, skateboarding, playing guitar, and having a really, really good time as a modern American teenager.

He's also politically astute and plugged into the anti-war sentiment that's escalating following a lull of several months in the wake of George W. Bush's depressing reelection.

Evidence is mounting that America's youth are beginning to resist the military propaganda that's lured millions of young men and women into the Armed Services since July 1, 1973, when the draft ended during the waning days of the Vietnam War.

The horror of the war in Iraq is definitely hitting home, with 56 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent CNN poll saying the military effort is going "badly" or "very badly."

It's been two years since President Bush prematurely declared "mission accomplished" on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. American military leaders are now confirming that a campaign to rout the so-called insurgents, many of whom are Iraqis who view themselves as fighting an invading force, could last for many more years.

For the first time in a decade, the Army and Marine Corps are missing their monthly recruiting goals as the number of flag-draped coffins shamefully shipped back in secret from Iraq approaches 1,700.

The good news is that more young people are starting to question America's foreign policy by refusing to enlist. But the bad news is that fewer volunteers increase the chances of a draft. This is the first protracted war in modern times where the United States hasn't employed selective service.

As I sat down at the computer to look up Anti-Flag, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young anti-war anthem "Four Dead in Ohio" (memorializing the May 4, 1970, massacre at Kent State University) streamed through my mind.

Are we heading down this horrible road again, where tin soldiers gun down American students protesting an endless war?

In the middle of Anti-Flag's home page was another link to www.militaryfreezone.org. I kept on clicking, and soon confirmed my son's disturbing information that the nation's high schools have become ground zero in the armed forces' determined effort to make sure no child is left untouched by the long arm of Uncle Sam.

The more I learned, the more I wondered why I hadn't heard about this before. Why hasn't the militarization of public schools been prominently reported in the media? How can the military be allowed to use high-pressure telemarketing campaigns on the youth of our nation without parental permission?

For Christ's sake, my son can't go on a field trip without my written permission!

Why should his personal information be turned over to military recruiters who're under tremendous pressure to find more warm bodies to pack into ill-equipped Humvees that are routinely getting blown apart in Iraq?

Praise be to Anti-Flag, whose songs I doubt I'll ever listen to but whose courage to spread the word about the behind-the-scenes recruiting effort in America's high schools is deeply appreciated. Just as the protest songs that inspired millions in my generation to march in the streets were lost on our parents, the music that moves my children just gives me a headache.

But it doesn't matter if I don't get it. What matters is that Joey's generation does.

The word is getting spread through cyberspace about a law that was supposed to improve public schools, but is, in fact, making them easy pickings for military recruiters.

Passed three months after September 11, 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act requires secondary schools receiving federal funds (which is just about every high school in the country) to provide military recruiters, upon request, the names, addresses and phone numbers of students.

Personal student information is invaluable to military recruiters who, critics say, target kids from lower-income neighborhoods with intense marketing ploys to get them to enlist.

"They know these kids don't have the same opportunities as more affluent students," says Stan Henry of the Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition, an anti-war group encouraging students to seek other employment options besides the military. "It's almost like a poverty draft."

Importantly, No Child Left Behind doesn't require prior written consent from parents for high schools to release personal information to the recruiters.

"We don't send out any type of letter or communication letting parents know this may happen," Craig Pletenik, public information officer for the Phoenix Union High School District, admitted to me.

Pletenik says the Phoenix Union High School District transmits about 8,500 names, addresses and phone numbers of 10th- and 11th-graders every spring to Army and Navy recruiters in downtown Phoenix.

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