Army boss’ mission: Persuade schools to welcome recruiters

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth is greeted at the Chicago Military Academy as she heads into meetings with young members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps in Chicago, on Feb. 15, 2023. Army recruiters are struggling to meet enlistment goals, and they say one of their biggest hurdles is getting back into high schools so they can meet students one on one. During three days of back-to-back meetings across Chicago last month, Wormuth met with students, school leaders, college heads, recruiters and an array of young people involved in ROTC or JROTC programs. (AP Photo/Lolita Baldor) 1 of 3 Army Secretary Christine Wormuth is greeted at the Chicago Military Academy as she heads into meetings with young members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps in Chicago, on Feb. 15, 2023. Army recruiters are struggling to meet enlistment goals, and they say one of their biggest hurdles is getting back into high schools so they can meet students one on one. During three days of back-to-back meetings across Chicago last month, Wormuth met with students, school leaders, college heads, recruiters and an array of young people involved in ROTC or JROTC programs. (AP Photo/Lolita Baldor)March 5, 2023 / Lolita C. Baldor / AP News -  Army recruiters struggling to meet enlistment goals say one of their biggest hurdles is getting into high schools, where they can meet students one on one. But they received a recent boost from a recruiting advocate whom school leaders couldn’t turn away: the secretary of the Army.

During three days of back-to-back meetings across Chicago last month, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth spoke with students, school leaders, college heads, recruiters and an array of young people involved in ROTC or junior ROTC programs. Again and again, she asked, what can the Army do to better reach young people and sell itself as a good career choice.

In blunt sessions, recruiting leaders told her they need more and better access to high school students. But they also said the atmosphere can at times be unfriendly — or worse — with school leaders, many of whom are skeptical that the Army offers a good career option for their students. “I’m going to use the word hostile,” one recruiter told her. “There’s no other word to use.”

It’s not unusual for the Army’s top civilian to travel the country, pitching the Army message and checking in on recruiting progress. But the Chicago trip came on the heels of the Army’s worst recruiting year in recent history, when it fell 25% short of its 60,000 enlistment goal. It’s up to Wormuth and other Army leaders to find creative new ways to attract recruits and ensure that the service has the troops it needs to help defend the nation.

All the military services are strugging to compete for young people in a tight job market where private companies are often willing to provide better pay and benefits. Two years of the coronavirus pandemic shut down recruiters’ access to public events and schools where they could find prospects. And, according to estimates, just 23% of young people can meet the military’s fitness, educational and moral requirements, with many disqualified for reasons ranging from medical issues to criminal records and tattoos.

Army leaders say their surveys show that young people don’t see the Army as a prime career choice, often because they don’t want to die or get injured, deal with the stress of military life or put their lives on hold.

Freshman JROTC enrollment plunges after overhaul by Chicago Public Schools

JROTC enrollment in eight CPS high schools has dropped by 67% since the 2020-21 school year. Brigadier General Rodney Boyd poses with JROTC members at the Veterans Day Ceremony at Soldier Field on Nov. 11, 2022.  Brian Rich/Sun-Times fileJan 5, 2023 / Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Sun Times - Freshman enrollment in a controversial military-run training program plummeted this academic year at some Chicago high schools after district leaders cracked down on schools that were effectively forcing first-year students to participate, according to a report from the district’s watchdog released Thursday. 

Chicago Public Schools pledged last spring to end automatic enrollment in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, a daily class on military science and leadership taught by retired military officers. 

The move followed an investigation by the district’s Office of Inspector General, which found that nearly all freshmen at some South and West Side schools were placed in the program “without any choice in the matter,” often as a substitute for gym. Some principals told the OIG they lacked the money to hire enough physical education teachers to offer PE to all students. 

The OIG probe was prompted by a Chalkbeat investigation in 2021 that revealed that hundreds of students at 10 predominantly Black and Latino high schools were being enrolled in JROTC by default. The practice drew backlash from some parents who described it as a way of shepherding teens from under-resourced schools toward military careers and away from other opportunities. 

In its annual report, the OIG found freshman enrollment in JROTC had decreased “dramatically” at eight schools where automatic freshman enrollment was most widespread. Enrollment fell from 639 to 211 between the 2020-21 school year and the current school year. 

One principal said this is the first year in which freshmen can decide between physical education or JROTC.

AI Explains About Opposition to JROTC

JROTC stands for Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, a program that is designed to provide high school students with leadership skills and prepare them for a possible future career in the military. While some people support JROTC, others are opposed to it for various reasons.

One of the primary reasons why people oppose JROTC is because they believe that it glorifies war and violence. They argue that the program encourages young people to view military service as the only viable career option, rather than pursuing other paths such as higher education or vocational training.

Others object to JROTC because they believe that it promotes militarism and nationalism. They argue that the program instills a sense of blind patriotism in young people, rather than fostering critical thinking skills and independent thought.

Some critics of JROTC also argue that the program is discriminatory, particularly against students who are LGBTQ or who hold pacifist beliefs. They point to instances where JROTC instructors have made homophobic or sexist remarks or where students have been punished for refusing to participate in certain activities.

Finally, opponents of JROTC argue that the program diverts funding and resources away from other important areas of education. They point to instances where schools have cut funding for music, art, or language programs in order to make room for JROTC.

Overall, opposition to JROTC is rooted in concerns about militarism, nationalism, discrimination, and the allocation of resources within the education system.

Our Children Are Experiencing Militarization of the US Up Close and Personally

A child waves from the back of a jeep with an M60 during a Veterans Day parade in Reno, Nevada, on November 11, 2022. Ty O'Neil / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty ImagesFebruary 23, 2023 / Andrea Mazzarino / Truthout -  During a Veterans Day celebration in my small Maryland community, a teacher clicked through a slideshow of smiling men and women in military uniforms. “Girls and boys, can anyone tell me what courage is?” she asked the crowd, mostly children from local elementary schools, including my two young kids.

A boy raised his hand. “Not being scared?” he asked.

The teacher seized on his response: “Yes!” she exclaimed. “Not being scared.” She proceeded to discuss this country’s armed forces, highlighting how brave U.S. troops are because they fight to defend our way of life. Service-members and veterans in the crowd were encouraged to stand. My own children beamed, knowing that their father is just such a military officer. The veterans and troops present did indeed stand, but most of them stared at the ground. As a counselor who works with children, including those from local military families, I marveled that the teacher was asking the young audience to dismiss one of the most vulnerable emotions there is — fear — in the service of armed violence.

No mention was made of what war can do to those fighting it, not to speak of civilians caught in the crossfire, and how much money has left our country’s shores thanks to armed conflict. That’s especially true, given the scores of U.S.-led military operations still playing out globally as the Pentagon arms and trains local troops, runs intelligence operations, and conducts military exercises.

That week, my children and others in schools across the county spent hours in their classrooms celebrating Veterans Day through a range of activities meant to honor our armed forces. My kindergartener typically made a paper crown, with six colorful peaks for the six branches of service, that framed her little face. Kids in older grades wrote letters to soldiers thanking them for their service.

I have no doubt that if such schoolchildren were ever shown photos in class of what war actually does to kids their age, including of dead and wounded elementary school students and their parents and grandparents in Afghanistan and Iraq, there would be an uproar. And there would be another, of course, if they were told that “their” troops were more likely to be attacked (as in sexually assaulted) by one of their compatriots than by any imaginable enemy. I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the most progressive and highly educated counties in the country and even here, war, American-style, is painted as a sanitized event full of muscular young people, their emotions under control (until, of course, they aren’t).

Even here, few parents and teachers dare talk to young children about the atrocities committed by our military in our wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

JROTC Is Preying on Poor Students

A recent string of revelations about abuses by the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps presents an opportunity to rein in the military’s presence and power in public schools.

The G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School Naval JROTC Unit cadets at the Miami Beach, Florida Veterans Day Parade, November 11, 2022. (Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)01.08.2023 / Seth Kershner Scott Harding / Jacobin - The Pentagon’s signature program for instilling military values in American schools, the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), has a long history dating to 1916. But it hasn’t endured such bad press since the 1970s. In several damning articles, the New York Times revealed the structure of what’s wrong with high school military training: instructors who use their positions to prey on teenage girls, in-school shooting ranges built with grants from the National Rifle Association, and mandatory enrollment in some of the nation’s largest school districts — all abetted by school officials who fail to adequately monitor a program of such dubious educational value that many instructors lack a college degree.

These revelations have vindicated those in the “counter-recruitment” movement who for years warned of a largely unsupervised program taught by retired military officers. It also raises serious questions about why military training programs have any place in US public high schools.

The Pentagon spends around $400 million annually to provide training in military drill and “leadership” through the JROTC in more than 3,500 high schools, to approximately five hundred thousand students. Despite this presence, the program seems to operate on the fringes, with school officials exercising scant oversight even as instructors take their young “cadets” on extended travel to military bases and interschool competitions. Such conditions foster an environment rife with potential abuse.

The Times identified at least thirty-three JROTC instructors who had been criminally charged with sexual misconduct with their students, and found evidence that numerous other instructors were accused but never charged. According to the education outlet Chalkbeat, Chicago’s head of school military instruction quietly resigned last summer, three years after failing to inform officials of suspected sexual abuse by a JROTC instructor who was later arrested.

The Games Industry as 21st Century Imperialism & Its Cultivation of Fascism

Emil Lundedal Hammar / UiT-The Arctic University of Norway - The videogame industry is emblematic of what John Smith (2016) terms 21st century imperialism, where rich countries and multinational companies profit from ‘super-exploitation’ (Smith 2018) of the so-called Global South via global production chains. These relations of production result in repeated crises that in turn exacerbate violent, reactionary movements usually found in fascist tidings stemming from the inherent crises in capitalism (Traverso 2019; Jong 2020).

Like other mass-cultural forms, videogames are produced within and are enabled by a historical and material global network reliant on global capitalism (Dyer-Witheford and De Peuter 2009; Kirkpatrick 2013: 108). This is achieved via postcolonial access to slave labour extracting conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Sinclair 2015, 2016, 2017; Valentine 2018); the super-exploitation of countries like China, India, Vietnam, and Malaysia (Fuchs 2017, Qiu 2017); the free-trade regulations of the centres of economic power; the precarious working conditions of software developers in North America (Consalvo 2008, O’Donnell 2014, Williams 2013) and in cheaply outsourced countries like Malaysia and Vietnam (Flecker 2016, Thomsen 2018); the exploitation of passion via ‘playbour’ by multibillion-dollar software companies (Dyer- Witheford and De Peuter 2009; Bulut 2020); the dominance of white heterosexual masculinity in game studios and the industry writ large (Srauy 2019; Johnson.

How Counter-Recruiters Take on the U.S. Military

Military recruiters count on economic hardship to lure young people of color to sign up. Counter-recruiters are working hard to thwart their efforts.

Susan from Sustainable Options for Youth (SOY) in Austin Texas High SchoolSep 6, 2022 / Aina Marzia / YES! Media - Year after year, the same foldable table is propped up near the entrance of a high school gym. People with the same uniform but different faces, all eager to tell you about a new “opportunity,” will sit idly at the table. There will be a sign in front of the table and a clipboard on top, ready to jot down any name that will take the bait being offered.

The U.S.’s “all-volunteer military” requires people, and the search for young high schoolers to fill the ranks of the armed forces is always ongoing. Further, the military tends to prioritize recruiting low-income minority kids because, as per Anthony Clark, a U.S. Air Force veteran, “Poverty is the draft.”

Racial and Socioeconomic Discrepancies in Enlistment

From embedding militarism into public schools to setting up shop inside schools, the military will seemingly go to any lengths necessary to get more boots on the ground. Programs like Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), while not directly affiliated with recruiters, attract large enlistments from high schoolers and are introduced to students as early as freshman year. In a report by RAND Corporation in 2017, it is estimated that more than 500,000 students are enrolled in Army training programs. Further, 56% of schools with such programs offered federal reduced or free lunch options, suggesting that they serve students near or below the poverty line.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, around 64% of enlistments are of people from household incomes below $87,000, and 19% are from household incomes below $41,691. Although the CFR classifies such people as “middle income,” many social scientists point out the increasing financial precarity of the American middle class, such as Alissa Quart’s 2018 book Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America. Such research highlights how the middle class is shrinking, making income data unreliable when assessing economic hardship. While there is a common belief that the armed forces are an “all-volunteer military,” the data suggests that low-income students often view the military as an economic opportunity.

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