From the Los Angeles Times
Activists seek to counter
military recruiters on L.A. campuses
Group will ask school officials
for access to high school facilities. But some say their
message is controversial.
By Seema Mehta
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 9, 2008
Troubled by military recruiting at Los Angeles high schools,
activists are seeking equal access to students on campus to
provide what they say is unvarnished information about the armed
forces and information about nonmilitary careers.
Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, a Southern
California group of educators, volunteers and veterans dedicated
to promoting nonviolent alternatives to military service, is
taking the proposal to the Los Angeles Board of Education,
saying it is vital that students have the truth about military
enlistment. That "truth," however, is subjective: Some view the
group's literature as controversial itself.
Recruiters "are marketers. They have a quota, and it's their job
to get students to sign up. So just like a car salesman, they're
going to say everything they can to get students to sign up,"
said Arlene Inouye, coordinator of the nonprofit South
Pasadena-based group funded by grants and donations.
"The most important thing we want to tell students is that the
military enlistment decision is probably one of the -- if not
the -- most important decision in their life. It's a really
serious matter. They need to hear about some of the realities of
what veterans have experienced and what the military enlistment
contract actually says."
Some military officials questioned the peace group's motives.
" . . . we are not confident that these groups' intentions are
to provide students with opportunities, but rather to spend a
great deal of time and effort to provide disinformation that
advances their organizations' agenda with little regard to the
individual student," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a
Pentagon spokesman, in an e-mail.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002,
requires schools to provide military recruiters with the same
access to high schools as colleges and employers, and compels
schools to turn over students' names, addresses and phone
numbers unless parents opt out.
U.S. Department of Defense spends $3.5 billion annually on
recruitment and enlisted more than 181,000 people for
active-duty forces in the 2007 fiscal year and more than 138,000
for the reserves. The Southland is fertile ground: Los Angeles
County ranked third in the nation in raw numbers of Army
recruits in 2007.
Military recruiters' access varies among schools, with some
administrators allowing them to wander the halls chatting with
students, work out with the football team, and bring Hummers and
sports cars on campus.
Under a pilot proposal, which United Teachers Los Angeles
endorsed in April, peace group volunteers would visit 10 to 15
high schools per week and set up a table where they would offer
information about enlistment, career alternatives and opting not
to have their personal information shared with the military.
In May, Los Angeles Unified School District administrators said
they could not unilaterally order high schools to give the group
access. Instead, Inouye was urged to meet with principals,
assistant principals and guidance counselors.
Inouye will present the proposal to the school board's
curriculum and instruction committee Thursday; it could come
before the full board in July.
Legal precedent more than two decades old allows
counter-recruiters equal access to schools, but in practice,
rules vary widely. Some schools have opened their doors to
counter-recruiters for years, while others refuse to allow them
on campus. But as concerns about recruitment in a time of war
have grown, schools in Oxnard, Minneapolis and Pinellas County,
Fla., decided this school year to provide equal access to
organizations such as Coalition Against Militarism in Schools,
Veterans for Peace and others.
In Austin, Texas, Nonmilitary Options for Youth has worked for
more than a decade to reach out to student organizations and
guidance counselors. Two years ago, the organization, along with
student activists, persuaded district officials to restrict
recruiters' movements on campuses so they could no longer roam
the halls talking to students and to clarify counter-recruiters'
access to campus, said Susan Van Haitsma, a leader of the group.
Currently, the group sets up a table at most of the district's
dozen high schools about once a semester, distributing "Addicted
to War" comic books, holding a poll in which students vote on
how the government ought to spend its budget, and bringing in
veterans to talk to students about their military experiences.
The group is limited by its small budget and the free time of
its volunteers, but Van Haitsma said they reach about 500
In Los Angeles, access varies greatly depending on the school,
Inouye said. Some administrators will not allow such groups on
campus and try to restrict them from distributing pamphlets
outside school. Others, such as Garfield High School, are more
At a career fair at the East Los Angeles high school last month,
Inouye's organization was given a table next to the Marines.
Staff Sgt. Victor Jimenez distributed T-shirts, water bottles,
key chains and posters, and collected dozens of students' phone
numbers. Jimenez said he typically visits the school about twice
a week, meeting with interested teenagers to discuss enlistment
and going running with students. He also meets with students in
his office in Montebello.
"We sit down with them one on one and talk about what the Marine
Corps offers for them," he said.
Recruiters for the Army and the Air Force worked other aisles of
the job fair, sprinkled among scores of recruiters from UCLA, a
beauty college, Toyota and others. About 1,500 students streamed
through the gymnasium.
Jimenez was surprised to learn that the women at the next table
"I don't care," he said. "They're welcome to do what they want."
But when told some of CAMS' talking points, his eyes grew wide.
"Wow," he said.
The group does not mince words -- a brochure on the table aimed
at young women considering joining the military features the
testimony of a woman who said she was raped while serving in the
Navy, and says women in the armed forces are more likely to be
sexually assaulted compared with women in the general
The volunteers told students that they would be sacrificing
their lives to enrich private companies, that the military
unfairly targeted minorities and poor communities, and that they
would be sent to Iraq and "get your heads blown off."
Freshman Ashley Flores, 15, said she was pleased to hear a
different viewpoint on campus.
"You see lots of recruiters" at school, said Ashley, who said
she was opposed to the war in Iraq and whose stepbrother is an
Army soldier stationed there. "I think the military just shows
the positives of what you get if you join. They just show the
But junior Jessica Reynoso, 16, whose brother is also in the
Army, said the counter-recruiters' table was offensive. In the
poll about government spending, she bypassed the options labeled
"education," "environment" and "healthcare."
"I put all my pennies in the military," she said. "My brother's
risking his life for us."
Inouye asked students why they wanted to join the military,
turning to freshman Adrian Cruz, who plans to enlist in the
Marines upon graduation.
"I want to fight for our country," Adrian said. "I'll be, like,
Inouye told the wiry teen he would end up in Iraq "killing a lot
of innocent people," or could be killed himself.
"I'm only going to kill people who shoot at me," Adrian replied.
Adrian said he was angry that Inouye, along with his parents,
brother and teachers, questioned his decision about what to do
with his life.
"It just made me kind of mad," he said. "I know they are right.
I just put it in the back of my head. I still want to be a
Adrian went back to the Marines' table, where Jimenez, in his
dress uniform, handed the 15-year-old his phone number.