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News A bachelor's of combat 

Recruiters meet little resistance on college campuses

A squad of eight camo-clad U.S. Army recruiters invaded the Palo Alto College campus last Monday, and invited students to tackle a rock climbing wall - but only after they provided the military with personal information on a waiver-and-release form.

The recruiters, based at South Park Mall under the umbrella of the U.S. Army 5th Recruiting Brigade, which includes the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion, were stationed that day in PAC's main plaza, designated by school officials as a free-speech area.

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Students signed up last Monday to climb the U.S. Army's rock wall at Palo Alto College.

John, a student in the Harlandale Independent School District, wrote down his name, address, telephone number, and the last four digits of his Social Security number, then strapped himself into safety gear. He easily made it to the top of the wall and collected his "Go Army" T-shirt.

(Because John is a high-school student, the Current is not disclosing his last name.)

Although John is a couple of years away from graduating high school - he was held back twice - the sophomore says he intends to enlist in the Army. "I will sign up as soon as I graduate. It's something I really want to do for myself."

It's a common scenario at local high school and college campuses: U.S. Army, Marine, Navy, and Air Force recruiters target students as possible enlistees.

"San Antonio remains a ready source of what the military needs most: people," read an October 7 New York Times report. In fact, San Antonio's recruiting battalion, which covers territory from north of Austin to the U.S.-Mexico border, "ranked first among battalions by signing up 2,118 active-duty enlistees, 86 percent of its goal."

The schools are often willing suitors, especially in a city where military service is ingrained in local culture. At Palo Alto, two local high-school counselors approached First Sergeant Robert "Bobby" Garza, insisting that the recruiters who travel with the climbing wall (the unit is stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky) visit their campuses. "My father spent 20 years in the military," one counselor informed him. "I am an Army brat, and proud of it."

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The wall attracted students who wanted to check their physical prowess; before climbing the wall, they had to fill out a "lead sheet" and divulge personal information to recruiters.

The Times lists "powerful patriotism and deep respect for military life" as a major factor in recruiters' success in San Antonio. A significant portion the city's population includes military veterans and retirees, which also helps to create a "reliable and steady source of recruits."

Local community organizer Christina Valero says "young, poor people of color" are easy prey for recruiters.

"Looking at the flashy recruitment vehicles lowered and customized with rims and military video games (the PAC recruiters had a "Go Army" Humvee and a large SUV painted with Army colors)," Valero says, "it is not hard to see that the military is specifically marketing itself toward a specific population: a population that perfectly describes the majority of San Antonio: young people of color from lower-income backgrounds."

The day after recruiters visited Palo Alto, the Defense Department announced the 2,000th casualty in the war in Iraq. Seventeen men and women from San Antonio have died in Iraq since the former Texas governor launched the war in March 2003.

"Now it is the youth of San Antonio who are doing the dirty work of Uncle Sam," says Valero. "The sea of blood runs not only red, but black and brown as well."

Valero has joined a coalition of students and anti-war organizers to host a panel discussion at the UTSA Downtown campus on the war in Iraq. The panel will feature Fernando Suarez, a man whose son died in Iraq; Hart Viges, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War; Silky Shah, a student organizer with Grassroots Leadership; and Lovella Calica of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition who conducts counter-recruitment training camps.

The realities of war

6:30pm, Thu Nov 3

UTSA Downtown Campus
Durango Bldg, Room 2.302

Locally, there has been little outcry about military recruiters on college or high-school campuses. Nick Vandelist of UTSA's Progressive Student Organization says his group has challenged recruiters on campuses by checking their credentials with the career-services office, which books recruiter visits to UTSA. "As a whole, our organization doesn't approve of it (recruiting on campus), but we have no official statement in regard to it."

UTSA students have distributed counter-recruiting literature provided by the American Friends Service Committee and Veterans for Peace. "We have people who are ex-military who are opposed to the headhunters who come and try to recruit students," says Vandelist. "They point out that you have a greater likelihood to be shot in combat than becoming a special-forces officer."

UT-Austin senior Karen Burke is one of the nine members of the Campus Antiwar Movement to End the Occupation, affiliated with the nationwide Campus Antiwar Network. She says her group managed to rally 40 protestors for about two-and-a-half hours at a recent job fair that included recruiters on the Austin campus. "We were there to keep another student from signing up to be killed in Iraq, but it was a brief protest. We could not keep it up all day; some of us had to go to class."

Although student groups in Seattle, San Francisco, and on the East Coast have chased military recruiters off college campuses, protestors generally are not welcome, says Kevin Ramirez of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. His organization, among others, offers aid to local student groups who want to protest military recruiters at their schools.

"Our goal is to provide students with enough information, a balanced picture of military life, to let them make a good decision about joining the military," says Ramirez.

Dan Rodriguez, director of student activities at Palo Alto College, says the Army and other recruiters are allowed on campuses; the recent recruiting event was coordinated by the college's office of transfer services. He says that despite Alamo Community College District's anti-discrimination policy based on age, race, gender, and sexual orientation, there has been no discussion about banning military recruiters because the military discriminates against gays.

Ramirez says one reason colleges allow recruiters on campus is the federal government's threat to withhold funds for those schools that ban them. "Those things conflict, and that's an issue; the school should decide whether it should stick to its anti-discrimination policy, or violate it and allow them on campus."

For John, compared to living in his South Side neighborhood where drugs and gang activity threaten to distract him from his studies, a hitch in the Army is an attractive prospect. He plans to train as an emergency medical technician. "I would rather die for a reason than from something stupid on the streets," says John, whose mother supports his plan to enlist. "I would rather be able to shoot guns legally. I would like to have the experience in Iraq, just to see what's it's like; to be part of history, to be able to say I was there."

By Michael Cary

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