Originally created 03/16/05

Military recruitment in schools questioned



Parent Denice Traina thinks military recruiters shouldn't be allowed to pursue students in public schools or get long lists of contact information to help woo youngsters into the service.

That's the point she made last week to the Richmond County Board of Education. She asked the board to stop allowing recruiters in the schools until they granted equal access to the Peace Corps, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and AmeriCorps.

"Present all of the options or none of them," she said.

Ms. Traina also argued that the district is violating students' privacy by releasing personal information to recruiters, who are experiencing a slump in new enlistments as combat casualties mount in Iraq.

But school officials say they are legally bound to allow military recruiters into schools and grant them access to student names, addresses and phone numbers. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 grants the Pentagon access to directories of all public high schools to help with military recruitment.

"We are following the law," district spokeswoman Mechelle Jordan said.

Recruiters in Augusta defend their use of schools to sign up students for the armed forces. Recruiters spend time in Richmond County district schools at least once a week, said Sgt. 1st Class John Tijerina, the commander of the Army recruiting station at Southgate shopping center.

"If we were to just stop recruiting all together, then what's going to happen? We have recruiting because we went to an all-volunteer force," he said. "If we had mandatory drafts, then there wouldn't be a need for recruiters."

Recruiters are careful to follow the rules that each principal lays down, the sergeant said. Some administrators allow them to talk only to students who approach the recruiters at an information booth. Others allow recruiters to pursue students and make presentations in classes.

Army recruiters make it clear that the military can be rough. At least one student will usually ask, "What is it really like?"

"Of course, we tell them, ëYes, there is going to be some days where you are cold, wet and hungry,'\\u2009" Sgt. 1st Class Tijerina said. "We are not out here to tell them it is all a big piece of pie. We tell them exactly what it is they will go through."

Still, military recruiters can be aggressive while trying to fill quotas, said Ms. Traina, a mother of two and co-chairwoman of the Georgia Green Party.

"When military recruiters, whose job it is to convince and persuade, enter schools, you may not realize they are offering $20,000 sign-on bonuses, laptop computers and scholarship money to our students," she said.

She argues for equal access for the Peace Corps, but representatives of that organization say they don't have an issue.

"We haven't had any problems with gaining access to high schools," said Camille Kenner, the spokeswoman for the Atlanta Regional Peace Corps office.

A recent Associated Press report said Army enlistments of young blacks and women are dropping as casualty reports mount in Iraq. Recruitment continues to decline this year despite more generous enlistment bonuses and an increase in recruiters, the article said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next:

Parent Denice Traina says she will meet with school board President Marion Barnes at 2 p.m. today for a follow-up discussion on her concerns about military recruiters and equal access by the Peace Corps and other groups.