Military turns to high schools for recruitsby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota National Guard officials say recruiting for new troops is steady, despite public opposition to the war in Iraq. The Pentagon announced this week it intends to increase new recruitment goals by 92,000 a year as part of the President Bush's plan to boost troop strength in Iraq. Minnesota is traditionally one of the top states for armed forces enlistment.
St. Paul, Minn. — This week, Minnesota National Guard Adj. Gen. Larry Shellito, described President Bush's service extension as a raw deal for soldiers and their families. He says he was frustrated by the decision to keep Minnesota guard members in Iraq and Afghanistan up to 120 days beyond the release date originally promised. At the same time, Shellito says the news of the extension shouldn't be a factor in bringing new recruits into the Guard.
"We have yet to find out. I will tell you right now we have a goal of roughly 150 a month and right now we're at 167 a month. So recruiting has been very solid, steady. But again we just notched everything up..."
Recent press reports, including by the Chicago Sun-Times, indicate some U.S. military recruiters are meeting their target numbers partly by signing less desirable recruits, including those without a high school diplomas or those with criminal backgrounds. Military recruiters are aggressively pursuing potential enlistees, leading to some conflicts on school campuses--one of the prime sources for new recruits.
Lauren Ries, a student at St. Paul Central High School, is active with a group of students trying to restrict military recruiters at her school. She says the recruiters portray the military as an exciting educational opportunity and play down the realities of war.
"They're giving out pens and they're giving out flyers that kind of make it look like a video game and there's all this stuff about college money. And we're just there with an opposite opinion saying be careful. You have other options," she said.
Ries' group is asking the school board to keep the military recruiters out of the school lunchroom.
Only a handful of students at Arlington Senior High School in St. Paul sign up for military service every year. Out of more than 100 cadets in the Junior ROTC program, fewer than five are seriously considering military service this year. One is senior Jason Moua, who has enlisted in the Marine Corps. In the end it wasn't the offers and promises of recruiters that convinced him to join, but the idea of bettering himself and his country.
"My own interest in the Marines is to support the people of the USA and the country itself. That's one of the reasons I joined. I just wanted to support and help the country when it's in need of help," he said.
Moua says his mother tried to talk him out of joining, but his father, a former Hmong soldier who joined American forces fighting Communist forces in Southeast Asia, understood.
"I just feel like sometimes if you don't do it, then who else is going to do it, you know?"
Another Arlington senior, Kelley Saunders, is already taking courses for credit at Concordia College. He hopes to continue his education there studying law enforcement. But his education may have to wait. Saunders, the nephew of former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, joined the Marine Reserve. Saunders is personally ambivilent about the Iraq war. But he sees military service as an important test of his own ability.
"In this war it's like who's the good guy? Are we the good guys or are we the bad guys? It's their country and I'm just going over there to help these people. It seems like these guys don't want no help. But I'm trying to help myself. I'm trying to get my military experience."
Saunders also says his parents tried to dissuade him from signing up. But he says he doesn't want fear to dictate his desire to reach his goals.
After a significant dip in recruiting in 2005, numbers of people signing up for service have surged past the military's monthly goals. Nationally, officials say recruiting is 25 percent above targets. In Minnesota, the number is even higher.
- All Things Considered, 01/12/2007, 5:20 p.m.