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‘Counter-recruitment’ gives students an alternative

Military recruiters from the U.S. Armed Forces came to Hood River Valley High School last week for their once-a-month visit to talk to students about joining the military.

The very next day, Linda Short came to HRVHS for her once-a-month visit to talk to students about alternatives to joining the military.

Short began what she calls her “counter-recruitment” effort at the high school last month in an attempt to provide students with more information about what it means to sign up for military service — and what other options are available to them for paying for college, since that’s one of the main reasons high school students enlist in the military.

“Most of them just want to go to college,” Short said. “They don’t know what other alternatives are out there for them. I feel that is the responsibility of adults — we’re not providing them with all the necessary information.” Short, whose counter-recruitment program is operated under the auspices of the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, set up her table in the school commons area. Literature piled on the table ranged from newsletters and articles from the Veterans for Peace organization to information about how to gain Conscientious Objector status.

Students wandered by throughout the 45 minutes Short was allotted by school administrators. Some leafed through the information and asked questions. Others asked what the table was all about, then walked away, uninterested.

But several students thanked Short for being there. Sophomore Rosanna Marquez said she was glad Short was there to provide alternative information to the military recruiters — who she said come to the school more than once a month.

“I feel the military shouldn’t be allowed to come into our school at all,” Marquez said. Senior Justin Wiley stopped by the table to inquire about applying for CO status.

“I just turned 18,” said Wiley, who said he supported the counter-recruitment effort. “The Army people come here. If you bring one side, you have to bring the other side.”

That is Short’s primary objective with the monthly counter-recruitment table.

“Students are entitled to equal access of information regarding military recruitment, enlistment and service,” she said, adding that her once-a-month table is hardly equal to the high exposure to military recruitment students now get — including advertisements on Channel 1 (the station that plays on televisions in the school), high-tech military recruiting trucks that visit the school and new provisions resulting from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the Act, which President Bush signed into law in 2002 in a sweeping effort to expand the role of the federal government in K-12 education, military recruiters have more access to students’ personal information than ever before — including student records being automatically released to military recruiters unless parents or guardians specifically request the records be kept private.

“Before the Act, one-third of public schools refused to give out private student information because they believed it inappropriate and the military practices discrimination,” Short said.

Short believes that joining the military is beneficial to some students, but far from all of them who wind up in the deferred enlistment program — the primary recruiting tool in high schools whereby students under 18 sign up for enlistment after graduation.

“When kids are recruited at such a young age, they’re not getting all the information,” said Short, who came late to the role of activist. During the Vietnam War she was a self-described “Nixonette,” staunchly supporting U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. But then she saw many of her “wonderful, happy-go-lucky friends come back from the war changed,” she said. Two of them committed suicide.

She spearheaded a similar counter-recruitment effort during the first Gulf War. Even though the recent U.S.-led war against Iraq is officially over, Short plans to continue her counter-recruitment effort when school resumes in the fall.

“I don’t like the open-door policy the military has with the schools,” she said. “I’m working to make it more equal.”

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