Thursday, September 4, 2008

Military Recruiting

Facebook is more fun than you can know.

Today, Zach Alexander posted on Facebook a CNN article that featured a Quaker who is working to keep military recruiters out of Wilkes County North Carolina high schools. This sentence struck me:
"The students need to know there are alternatives to the military," said Ferrell, a Quaker. "But they're not getting the other side."
And it got me wondering what "other side" all the middle and owning class Quakers are offering poor and working class high school students, like Josh McGrady, 20, (also from the CNN article):
He was working at a Wal-Mart after spending parts of three years at a community college. His bills -- including student loans -- were piling up. His father worked at a window-and-door factory for 30 years, but McGrady says he didn't want that life. "You could be laid off at any moment."

Tired of struggling, he walked into the Wilkesboro Army recruiting office. His mother, an elementary school teacher, and father support his decision. But his sister, a bank supervisor, tried to talk him out of it. Three soldiers from the county have been killed in Iraq.

"She's worried I'm going to get blown up," McGrady said. He paused for a moment. "I'm a little nervous, too, but there's not much else here."
So I checked out Quaker House to see what they have to say about military recruiting.

Lies, they say. Corruption too. They even explain how we can help, by running around proclaiming the truth.

As Quakers, we rely a lot on revealing The Truth as a means for change. Woolman did it, why can't we?

Because now, like then, economics is getting in our way. And I think our class privilege might be preventing us from seeing it.

McGrady needs a job that pays enough so he can live, and his options are limited. He went to public school and grew up in a working class family.

Like me.

I didn't know college was an option until 10th grade. Even then, I didn't think my possibilities included most middle and upper class jobs like engineering or medicine.

The Army is telling McGrady that they'll pay for his college degree if he wants to go, take classes while he's in the army, comprehensive health care and generous time off, and generous compensation.

Does it matter that the Army is lying? That some of their recruiters are corrupt?

Sure. But what are we offering recruits other than the truth?

The Truth might be enough for middle and owning class kids, but it's not enough if you live on the edge of poverty, or you're one paycheck away from welfare or getting a good education means making it all the way through twelfth grade or getting an AA from your local community college where your mother works nights as a janitor so you get to go there for free.

And it's those folks whom the military recruiters are targeting.

What could we do, in addition to exposing the military for what it is?

Create a fund to give scholarships and job training to CO's and 18-year-olds who have to choose between poverty and military service. Help those same folks with their resumes and interview skills. Provide scholarship search assistance. Connect them with social services and help close loopholes to keep those on the borderline of poverty from falling farther. Make sure they have access to decent health care.

Finally, we have a number of fine institutions of higher learning that could provide scholarship for CO's and those young people who feel they have no other choice.

This is a lot to ask for. But I'm hoping it'll give you all something to chew on.

And I'm hoping that maybe some of you are already doing some of this work. Anyone?


Tegdoh said...

For some students, college seems so far out of reach that, even if there were such scholarships to Quaker Schools most would never even consider applying for them. And you also have to look at the culture on those campuses - is a working class student with little money to spend on the weekends really going to feel comfortable on a campus dominated primarily by upper middle class students? And you also have to consider the academic standards of getting into one of those elite Quaker schools (and they are quite elite.) I know from experience that many students from poor rural school systems would have difficulty getting into most of the schools you have listed.

That's not to say that some students might benefit from such a program, and it would be wonderful if it were offered. But there are alternatives as well - the so-called work colleges like Berea College that charge no tuition and admit students from lower economic backgrounds. I think it would be a great idea if Quaker House were to compile a list of such schools and include it with their anti-recruiting materials.


cath said...

My Meeting and all of the historic Peace Churches-- Quaker (5), Mennonite (2), Brethren (1) --in my city have either hosted or supported workshops on how to apply to be a C.O. and have done some PR on the topic as well.


Jeanne said...


Thanks for stopping by.

Yeah, I have another post about that very thing (Quaker schools being elite and suggesting that we look at Berea as a model instead of Harvard). That's why I listed a whole bunch of other options before the Quaker schools. Like vocational training, resume reviews, interview skills training, etc.

And there are very bright working class kids who still only have the choice between the military and poverty. They would at least have a chance if Quakers would offer scholarships to these folks specifically.


Nice to hear what you all are doing in your area.

I'm curious, do you offer more economic incentives to compete with what the military offers? Help with job training? Scholarships to the local vo-tech or community college?

I'm trying to say that the truth isn't enough, that our actions aren't supporting that truth.

When Quakers said slavery was wrong, they didn't just say-so. They helped provide a real way out, and not just the words of truth.

I think you can tell people how to become a CO all you want, and you'll get a few people out of the military.

But don't you think someone who has no job opportunities outside of the military could be helped too?

cath said...

Jeanne--I'm a little confused, so I hope you can help me figure out where I went wrong with my comment, because I sense that I may have gone off in a direction that didn't hang with your original post. :)

I'm not sure if that "you" in your last comment was meant to be me personally (in which case, no, I don't offer incentives, I live a very simple life on a very low income). If you meant the Peace Churches, then the answer is still no--none of the churches/meetings has that kind of money. In fact, some of the Quaker Meetings are in a pinch to keep things going themselves.

The best we can do is to offer information and encouragement.

I understand and agree with your POV that information doesn't do the whole job and never meant to say or imply otherwise. But no organization or institution that I am affiliated with is in a finanacial position to make a good counter offer to the "come fight with us and get your college paid for" message of the military.

So we do the best we can with the resources we have in the hopes that we can help folks envision other paths for themselves.

The sad thing for me is when the military is anyone's only ticket out. I would prefer a society with more opportunity for all. I vote on that conviction, and my spiritual ideals make me want my own society to be a place where all have a chance to succeed at something without having to be a soldier to do so.

I'm not sure how to interpret the last question of your comment. Did my comment leave the impression that I feel people outside the military should not be helped? I really really hope not.

In fact--just double checking here--did you read something into my post that perhaps isn't there?

I was only trying to point out what Peace Churches are able to do in our city--I was not challenging anything, debating anything, or saying that info providing is better or meets all needs.

I'm a social worker and have devoted most of my professional life for 30+ years to helping people with very little (or no) resources. I've worked almost exclusively for not-for-profits.

And before that I grew up in a family with very little (mostly pooled) resources and quite a few immigrants. My current work with refugees allows me to understand that the poverty of my childhood and the low-income life I live now pales in comparison to what they have been through, but I do believe I have some sense of what it means to be without and how inticing the military's offer might seem to a person who can see only a yearning for someting better in life.

One of my hopes is that a counter offer to the military will emerge; that visionaries will be able to promote bold steps to change--not only the space between the haves and have nots--but also the need to have a military.

I pray for that day.

Maybe I failed to understand how you wanted people to respond here. If so, please accept my apology for inserting a tangent into the comment thread.


Zach Alexander said...

I agree with the basic idea you're putting out here – that anti-recruiters should try to address the economic situations that drive people to the military.

I think you should clarify whether your criticism is directed at Sally Ferrell, however. By juxtaposing her with your take on the Quaker House website, and not quoting the section of the article that says she talks about AmeriCorps and other (presumably for-pay) opportunities, it seems like you're lumping all "(middle-class+) Quakers" together.

And have you thought of communicating your concerns directly to Quaker House?

Zach Alexander said...

PS, my current website is – the one you linked to has been shut down. (The new one is actually down at the moment, though it will be back up soon.)

Chris M. said...

This issue is alive and well in San Francisco, where the School Board voted to remove Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) from the high schools about two years ago. The board directed the administration to set up a committee to come up with alternative after-school programs for the teens affected. Then the administration, which supported JROTC, stacked the committee with people who thought JROTC was the best option, and they just couldn't come up with a better alternative. There's finally a pilot program starting up this fall in two high schools, but it's little and it's late.

Here's why: Some parents circulated a petition to put an advisory measure on the November ballot to tell the School District to restore JROTC. Part of their argument is that a viable alternative was never set up! Many of the participating students are from immigrant Chinese or Latino families, and they do see the military as an upward path.

Incidentally, the majority faction on the School Board at the time was multiethnic and progressive, and included two members of the Green Party.

The opposition to the JROTC ballot measure is somewhat diverse, and includes some progressive Chinese American and Latino leaders. However, the campaign to oppose JROTC is at high risk of being predominantly composed of older, white, middle class peace movement people. Who are lovely people of course, but who aren't representative of the community that wants JROTC, either.

In this case, I blame the school district bureaucrats for dragging their feet and not followed the direction of the School Board to develop alternatives. They're the ones with the personnel, facilities, and power to create something that could serve hundreds of youth, not our little meeting. But your larger point is well taken, Jeanne.

Anonymous said...

Americorps. I know people who joined it, and our community benefits greatly from these students. TRIO, a federal program that I am a part of (as a student in need) also helps those of us at a disadvantage succeed in college. Upward Bound is the HS roots of our program. Also an awareness needs to be put out there of things like loan forgiveness programs. I'm going into nursing and there are federal and state loan forgiveness programs. Between my low tuition and low cost of living, loans cover BOTH. If I plan right, I won't have to pay those back. If only we recruited nurses (and teachers, I think there are similar programs for educators) like we do soldiers, we'd have a better health care system! But those are two federal programs I know of geared towards helping disadvantaged students get a degree. Our state has one too, Iowa Workforce runs something, but I've never checked to see if I was elible for that. I know a number of people who are on welfare who are getting some good programs to go to and stay in college. They're getting stipends, they'e getting tuition paid, they're allowed to borrow books and laptops (TRIO dos that). You just need someone in each area to figure out how to coordinate all these things for students who need help but don't want to join the military.

Friendly Mama said...

This subject is very close to my heart. I have three sons. My oldest is 17. He's been raised Quaker, although doesn't identify as such. He's not much into academics and I don't see him going to college when he graduates. He's a musician and learning theater lighting and sound. I imagine that he'll go to tech school and become a roadie or play in a band. I've discussed what he will do when it comes time for him to register for Selective Service when he turns 18. As he doesn't identify as Quaker, he feels it would be hypocritical to try to register as a Conscientous Objector.

He's a strong-willed young man who is drawn to take-charge leaders (Chuck Fager is his favorite Quaker). If we were not a pacifist family, I would encourage him to join the military because the experience and discipline would be great for him.

There are some really positive things about military service. When a young person joins the military, they immediately become part of something big, powerful and dynamic; they gain an identity they can take pride in; they gain respect from others; they gain a sense of purpose and belonging. When a young person joins the military, the immediately set aside their youth-in a way available only to those take the same step (and not those in college)-and become adults. They get adventure. They get to test their mettle. And they get trained and PAID to do so.

We peace-nics have nothing comperable to offer. Americorps was close but is not an option any longer. What we need is a peaceful warrior training camp which would function like military boot camp but would train our young people to do service work around the world. And young people would HAVE to be paid a stipend when they participated.

The way I envision it, there could be several areas of training "recruits" could specialize in, like medicine, education, agriculture, architecture, etc. It would train them for service in organizations like Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, AFSC (natch) and the like.

The thing is, though, it would have to be privately funded. I know we Quakers have the money, but we prefer to keep it safe and secure (after all, we're getting older and must think about our twilight years). Quaker House is practically having to beg for funding in spite of the incredibly important work they're doing.

Obviously, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. I'm so glad someone else is thinking about this and opening it up for discussion!

Mary Linda

Jeanne said...

(Not a post from me but from someone who wanted me to edit her last name out of the post)

Jeanne, sorry to have to use 'anonymous'--I can't get my Google account to work for some reason. I'll try to get it resolved next week. I'm a follower of your blog but have never commented on it.

Of course you're right about our need for better counseling of COs, so that they fully understand the inaccuracies they are probably hearing from recruiters.

However, in my mind a conscientious objector's objection is a matter of conscience, not about training for employment. Genuine COs I've known have been willing to (and sometimes did) go to prison or leave their country rather than to the military, not just to forgo educational opportunity.

If you're commitment to nonviolence is sincere and deep enough, you'll be clear that you will manage your life while not killing others in the process. I don't think that's a classist viewpoint. I could be wrong, but my own extended family experience continues to indicate otherwise to me. I think we need to focus our efforts within the boundaries where we can make a difference (which is not in providing millions in direct scholarship aid!).

In the Light,
Carolyn H

Tania said...

This has been raised as a serious concern in my Meeting as well, though we haven't been able to do much with it. (Our current Testimonies and Concerns committee is in the midst of discerning its purposes and procedures... but this is something I will suggest we consider doing once we're done with that discernment process.)

Hystery said...

I feel waves of sadness and anger whenever I see the recruiters setting up in the halls of the community college where I teach history. I am always tempted to go over and toss their things on the floor and chase them out of the building but since I would be fired on the spot, I just clench my fists and go back to teaching about social justice and pacifism hoping that some of it catches a young person before the recruiters do.

I'm an adjunct and not at all in a position to dictate my college's priorities but I do have some powers. I choose the topics I teach. I choose how I will relate to my students. I tend to offer second, third and fourth chances to struggling young men and women because I understand that if they fail in my (required) class they may quit and if they quit there is nowhere else to go for a college education. Of course there comes a time when I recognize with some there is nothing more I can do. I'll hold their hand but they have to pull their own weight. In the end, it is their education not mine.

The kids in my classroom come out of impoverished, working class and middle class backgrounds. And I believe in them. They have much to offer.

But my college offers them liberal arts degrees which are great for transferring (what if they can't afford to go on?) and it offers degrees in things like nursing and criminal justice. The numbers of young men staying to graduate dwindle as the jobs traditionally taken by male working class folks dwindle. And they aren't interested in early childhood education or nursing. We need to offer more innovative programs that help them keep up in this economy AND which serve the needs of a peaceful, humane, green society.

Jeanne said...

Sorry, I haven't had a chance to respond to everyone who's posted! I've had a party to shop for, execute and clean up. That last part I haven't done yet. After this post.

Cath and Zach,

You both are right in your criticisms. After a few comments came in, I realized I wasn't being clear.

I'm sorry I came across as criticizing you, Cath. I wasn't. I was confused by your post until I realized I wasn't clear. And for that, I'm sorry. If I could, I'd rewrite the post entirely. Or maybe ask Chris to write a guest post.

Zach, my concerns are larger than Quaker House, just like my posts on education are larger than the schools I hold up as an example. I hold Quaker House's very fine work up as a way to suggest that we (all Quakers) may have more work to do around Military Recruiting, and that our collective vision may be limited by our collective class status.

As Mary Linda points out, the military is a much stronger pull economically and culturally, than Americorps that pays a tiny amount of money for college, but little else (unless you're a team leader).

Quaker House is doing great work. Twin Cities folks have similar pamphlets about the lies of the military. But nothing on other opportunities.

And I'm glad to hear that several people have confronted this issue and are doing something about it!

You make a good point, Mary Linda, that we *do* have the money. To build fancy Meeting Houses that are LEED certified or are by famous architects.

But we're pacifist and don't always delve deeper into this issue of military recruiting, like Chris has. And Mary Linda.

And Chris, your story illustrates that Quaker lack of diversity, socioeconomic and age and race, hinders us in this work sometimes.

If us Quaker peace-nics better reflected the communities in which we work, we would have more authority with school boards and school committees.

If I'd only known, I would have asked you all to write a guest post about this very important issue!

Joanna Hoyt said...

My Blogger account isn't working, but my name is below, and you can reach me at towardtruthATyahooDOTcom.

I'm in a low-income area and the recruiters are very present in the schools. Last year I started visiting the local high school monthly with signs saying “Before you spend your money...your time...your life...STOP AND THINK. What do you really want? What is being offered? At what price?” I offer information about the downsides of military enlistment, about alternative opportunities, and also about advertising and the credit and rent-to-own traps. I think the last item is important in its own right, and also because young people looking for nonmilitary jobs in this area are going to have to learn frugality.

I haven’t gotten into offering info on college scholarships for several reasons. There are guidance counselors at that school trying to steer kids out of the military and into college, and I think they’re covering the scholarship angle. I hadn’t heard of the working colleges, but will see what i can learn about them. Quite a few of the targeted young people are struggling academically as well as financially. And I didn’t go to college myself. So I am not a good resource for how to get into colleges, and I am not convinced that college is the best path for everyone.

I offer information about the AmeriCorps NCCC program, (which doesn’t require a college degree and does provide work training, community, a stipend and some money for future education) and also state/local opportunities; about the paid apprenticeship opportunities in assorted trades which are coordinated by the NYS Dept of Labor; and about Job Corps. And if students are interested I talk to them about what I’m doing as a full-time volunteer on a farm/charitable organization. I am very aware that I don’t have anything to offer that is comparable to what recruiters offer. But I think the consumer culture is pretty nearly as destructive as the military; and I do think that for young people here refusing recruiters may mean living without too much money. --Mary Linda, you said that Americorps isn’t an option any more; why not?

Jeanne said...

AND one more thing.

Thank you all.

I learn so much from each of you, about what I'm perceiving, what I understand, and especially what I don't understand.

You remind me to be humble.

Blessings and love,


cath said...

Jeanne, you said:

"Cath and Zach,
You both are right in your criticisms."

I just wanted to reassure you that nothing I've posted here was meant as a criticism. In fact, I think we both have a better understanding--even without the re-write you mentioned :) -- of the conversation.

Sometimes Light comes only after a few people discuss among themselves.

Thank you for getting us started.


Paul L said...

Re your suggestion: "Finally, we have a number of fine institutions of higher learning that could provide scholarship for CO's and those young people who feel they have no other choice": I believe that at least two of the Quaker colleges you mention -- Guilford and Earlham -- have private scholarship and loan funds available for young men who are ineligible for federal assistance because they have not registered for the draft.

SARAH said...

Hey, Jeanne, I found this very true and articulately written. Having recently attended a large, public, "inner city" high school, I am all too familiar with the sight of smiling men in uniform handing out paraphernalia in the lobby. At our school, we had "Youth Against War and Racism," a group which I fully support; however, they never did give out information on other options. In essence, they always seemed to be AGAINST the military recruiters, but never made it clear what they were FOR. Groups like this could be so much more potent if they focused their energies on promoting economically viable alternatives to the military, such as giving out local job information or info on college scholarships.

Robert Ross said...

The Army is telling McGrady that they'll pay for his college degree if he wants to go, take classes while he's in the army, comprehensive health care and generous time off, and generous compensation.

Does it matter that the Army is lying? That some of their recruiters are corrupt?

1. The Army will pay for a college degree. Army paid for mine.

2. Soldiers do take classes while in the Army.

3. Military health care is the only universal quality health care that our government offers. Quality of military health care is good.

4. Generous time off - all services grant 30 days paid vaction a year.

5. Generous compensation - name one other, non-union occupation in the United States that pays 19 year old workers with only a high school diploma or GED $40,000 per year.


1. Please suggest a method to recruit new personnel for the military?


1. We join for a variety of reasons, but we stay in the armed services because we have found an honorable and rewarding career.

2. In return for this professionally rendered service, you, the American people, are no longer required to send your own flesh and blood into the military.

3. Can't say that I admire that. Trading duty for convenience leads to serfdom; less a citizen and more a consumer.