Do military recruiters belong at high schools?

Today at Oakland High, war resister and former Navy sailor Pablo Paredes debated Army recruiter Sgt. Jose Delao about the role of military recruiters in high schools — and the benefits and risks of joining the service.


Some of the questions from the crowd:

– Why do you recruit us young people? “We’re going to die, but for what, you know?”
– Why is it that the military recruiters come to the low-income high schools?
– What are the benefits for veterans (Be specific, please)?

It was an intense hour — and, for the most part, civil. At one point during the question-and-answer session, though, two teachers with opposing viewpoints started shouting. One pointed out that no one was forcing students to join the volunteer service, and another accused one of the military recruiters of lying. Eventually, the chaos subsided and a few more students were able to ask questions.

Do you think it is appropriate for the military to recruit kids while they’re still in high school? Are recruiters merely giving them another option, as they say, or are they taking advantage of teenagers unsure of their future (and how to pay for college)?

photo by D. Ross Cameron, Tribune photographer

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    As for comparing what you’re promised by a recruiter and what you get in the military it’s a LIE. I’m not referring to the politics of recruiting for the military or the correctness or incortness of the military’s role in current foreign policy decisions. I’m talking about men in uniform telling LIES to high school kids about what they can expect in the military.

    How about the kids who joined with the promise of a signing bonus only to get critically injured, released from the military followed by a letter from the Pentagon demanding that the wounded soldier must return all or a portion of the signing bonus? This inexcusable behavior on the part of the military caused a congressman to initiate legislation that would allow wounded soldiers to keep (or receive) ALL that they had been promised before becoming “unfit” to complete their CONTRACTED period of service BECAUSE THEY WERE WOUNDED!

    Ask these used car salesmen in uniform about this, and other promises not kept and insults spit on America’s young people by the military of these United States.

    Don’t give em your life! Give em the finger!

  • Sue

    Ya know… It just kills me to have to agree with John even once.

    I’m an Air Force veteran. Everything I have today can be traced back to my enlistment. My recruiter never even tried to lie to me. My aptitude test results showed that I’d be good at computer programming, and my first question was, “What is that?”

    Here I am 26 years after that test, still earning my living doing what the Air Force trained me to do. Uncle Sam also paid for my college. I completed my degree in three years while I was serving on active duty. I had a lot of support and encouragement to “be all I could be” – which was the A.F. recruiting slogan way back then. I even met my husband while we were both enlisted, so the Air Force gets some of the credit for our terrific kids.

    For over 20 years I actively encouraged youngsters to consider military service, and told them my success story. But that stopped in 2003. I’m still involved in my employer’s veterans’ group, and I still support those in uniform like my brother.

    But I can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone else join and risk their lives for an oil war. There’s no need to be rude to anyone, even a military recruiter, but for kids thinking of college and what to do after high school, find another option.

  • teacher

    There is absolutely no reason I can see why such young people are used to fight wars. I’d raise the volunteer age to 21.

    Otherwise, the only fair way is to have a draft and spread the pain out equally among all economic classes.

    Let’s face it: The people that vote and bankroll politicians are not the same people that provide the cannon fodder in the form of their own children.

  • Doowhopper

    The entire concept of war is archaic and barbaric.We emphasize non violence and conflict resolution to our students within the school system and then try to recruit them to commit violence in Iraq.Does anyone else see the paradox of this absurdity?
    And the rationalizations given for war are equally baffling.So we “had”to attack a country because they were getting ready to attack us?Well,if that rationale is logical then why is it wrong for a drug dealer to do a drive by shooting in another part of town?All the thugs involved are doing is protecting their hood from those folks who will do them harm first.
    We just finished a gun buyback here in Oakland last weekend.How about an INTERNATIONAL gun buyback where we resolve never again to revert to primitive and obselete ways to solve problems?

  • jim2812

    As an Air Force veteran who was able to complete college in part by being financed by having volunteered for military duty in the U.S. Air Force and also to have taken advantage of college courses offered on my Air Force base, I agree with Sue that for some students joining the military has advantages.

    And, I also agree that I would not recommend students volunteer for the current oil war and oil occupation.

    Another point for students, that are Christian, and serious about issues of morality to consider, would be the fact that this war and occupation is not a moral war, or occupation, as the U.S.A was the aggressor. Although, the Pope has made clear that the Iraq war was not a moral war, I am not aware of any other leading christian church that supports this war and occupation.

  • Mr. G

    As of yesterday, eight people had been shot and killed in Oakland within a five day period. The world is a dangerous place. Every action has its consequence, whether you decide to enlist or hang out on the street corner.

    Whether or not you agree with U.S. foreign policy is irrelevant. Our world is such that our military is not going to be disbanded anytime soon. The U.S. military will need to recruit, and men and women who feel called to serve will continue to join. Ultimately, those who are considering a career in the miliatry need to determine whether or not they are comfortable fighting the battles they may be asked to fight.

    What this article does a good job of showing, and what I think is really important to note is, not all of the kids in Oakland schools have someone they can talk to about a decision of this magnitude. And at seventeen or eighteen, they do not have the perspective they need to understand the reality of a military career (as opposed to the glorified version they are likely to get from a recruiter). If recruiters are to have access to our students, there should be some balance to the conversation.

    Because students may not know what questions to ask to get at the whole truth, forums like this one are an absolute necessity. They have to decide whether or not to drink and drive. They have to decide whether to spend or save. They have to decide to sleep in or go to work. They will be faced, upon graduation, whith lots of adult decisions. This one has major consequences, to be sure, but it is theirs to make. Rather than shielding them from having to make difficult choices, we should be teaching them to think critically when faced with such a situation.

  • http://www.schools2colleges.com schools

    Being a mother of three children, I definately do not like or agree with the recruiting of young people at high schools. While I know that this can be a viable education/employment option for some, the risk is great. There is always the possibility that you could perish while in service, but now thereasons for dying for your country are ridiculus.

  • John

    Sue: “Oil wars” aside, it’s about the military lying to prospective recruits and NOT keeping its promises to them. When Jordan Fox got wounded and could no longer be “all that he could be” for the military they dumped him and wanted his signing bonus money back. Here are some related media quotes and a link relating to this stink.

    “Jordan Fox, wounded in Iraq, didn’t get a thank you for his military service & personal sacrifice. He received a different kind of correspondence from the Bush administration’s Pentagon:


    The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments. To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases. Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.”

    Sue,You’ve been out of the military quite a while haven’t you.

  • Bee4usnavy

    I have no problem having recruiters show up to school. As of Jan 20th 2008. I had served my country 8 yrs 3 day and out of that time I was in OEF and OIF 1,2,3. I made 4 deployments to the box and would never give that up. For all the people protesting the war you are welcome for that freedom. Because if it was not for myself and all the rest of the brave souls serving this country you would have no rights. You really don’t expect much from the service, you do not enlist to make money cause if that is the case there would be a lot more people doing it, you do it for the Honor. I think people that deserters before their tour are cowards, I mean so people just sit on a ship in the Gulf and float how dangerous is that. I would of much rather done that at times rather than run though the desert and get shot at. Support your kids if that is a choice that they want to do. You should let recruiters in the school, if you don’t like have your kids sick that day. Most schools have to send out a notice if there will be recruiters on campus on a certian day.

  • Ted

    My own experience with a recruiter in my classroom… …recruiter was a Marine in full dress. In the course of his discussion with my students, one of my students asked if a person could enlist if they were gay. The recruiter responded, “Of course not, they would not be fit to serve.” Can anyone name another organization with a similar policy that regularly recruits on Oakland campuses?

  • John

    Well said Bee4usnavy: With regard to your comment that, “You really don’t expect much from the service…you do it for the Honor.” Is there only an expectation of “honor” for those who enlist in the military with no expectation of “honor” on the part of the military? So for one side of the relationship (the enlistee) there’s an expectation of being honorable, and for the other (the military) an expectation of being dishonorable and abusive. Sounds like the text book definition of an abusive relationship to me.

    Why would an honorable person want to joing a dishonorable organization that breaks it’s promise to honorable enlistees the moment they get shot? Anyway, I can well imagine your time in “the box” was no fun and you’re glad to get out in one piece, along with (if applicable) your full signing bonus.

    I thank you for your service to our country. I’m happy for your good fortune and sorry that all your brothers in arms don’t share in it (or have their full signing bonus) because the military lied to them and cheated them.

    However, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a singular issue, the military lies to and cheats its enlistees in more ways than its possible to count -or an attorney is allowed to sue for breach of contract.

  • Mr. G

    John, you clearly feel strongly about this. There are others who would probably argue that the military had tremendous and positive impacts on their lives. The question is, if these kids are given some guidance and the opportunity to learn about the military from multiple perspectives, are they capable of making the decision that is right for them? I think it would be a huge mistake to bar the military from high schools because of someone else’s politics or personal views. There might be merit if students were incapable of sorting it out for themselves.

    Part of protecting our students is making sure they have the skills to make good decisions once they leave high school. Protecting them from every potential threat will only work until graduation day.

    After being asked recently about college versus military service, I talked to my freshmen students about future careers in the military. My advice was simple: If you think you might want to be in the service, do your research and consult with your family and other people you trust. If you decide it is the right decision for you, get good grades, get into shape, and go to one of the service academies.

    These kids are smart, they know what’s going on in the world. Most of them have family who are serving or who have served. They need guidance and objective information.

    If you want to help the recruiters, just ban them from the schools and tell the kids they absolutely shouldn’t join. In my experience, high school kids love to do precisely what you tell them they shouldn’t.

  • John

    Mr. G, Thanks for your comments. I don’t disagree, providing students get some of the unwritten fine print along with the BIG PRINT sales pitch from those car salesmen in uniform. I agree students are smart, so let them see BOTH SIDES of the contract.

    I also agree many have benefited from the military, some going on to become “computer programmers” while others (like my friend’s daughter) were promised she would become a flight controller by signing a five year contract with the military. After signing on the dotted line she was told her eyes disqualified her from being an air traffic controller. She had disclosed her eye issues to the recruiter verbally & in writing prior to signing. She requested (minimally) that her contract be reduced by one year (from five to four years) given that she would no longer be receiving “specialty training.” She was told she had to stay in the FULL FIVE YEARS regardless.

    This is just one story of many I’m personally aware of. A dedicated military veteran contributing to this blog says, “You really don’t expect much from the service…” HOW TRUE! IF recruiters told students this same TRUTH, along with a pitch to be good patriots and sacrifice themselves for their country” – as in “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.” – Why hell (I mean shucks), I’d in the front row listening to that recruiter while bursting my buttons with pride, and holding a picture of George Washington in one hand and an American flag in the other.

    Ding ding ding ding…Oops! That was my alarm going off! It’s time to give up those sweet dreams and jump out of bed. The floor is cold and the sands of Iraq are hot, and soaked in the blood of would be ‘flight controllers’ (etc.) who didn’t know (at time of enlistment) that their TRUE destiny was in the infantry.

  • Sue

    John says,

    “Sue,You’ve been out of the military quite a while haven’t you.”

    Why yes, and I see you’ve been paying *close* attention to my posts, haven’t you? What was your first clue that my service was long ago? Maybe when I said,

    “Here I am 26 years after that test, still earning my living doing what the Air Force trained me to do.”

    Or was it,

    “For over 20 years I actively encouraged youngsters to consider military service, and told them my success story.”

    Either way, I must compliment you on your excellent detective work.

    (end of sarcasm)

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    YES. Recruiters are just delivering information. What’s the big deal. Students under 18 can’t be “Recruited” without parental consent anyway. It’s not like they can be tricked into signing away their lives.

    War or no War, the Military represents a very positive choice for many many students.


    I joined at 17 and fought in the first Iraq war. When I returned to Oakland two of my good friends here were dead. They died right here in Oakland.. in this war being fought within our cities.

    Another point: Aside from the financial benefits, Their is a certain wonderful something you gain from serving and protecting your country. Those that have never done it may not understand what I mean.

  • John

    Sue, Try revisiting a few quotes & concepts related to this blog.

    John says:

    “Sue: “Oil wars” aside, it’s about the military lying to prospective recruits and NOT keeping its promises to them.”

    So I’m NOT commenting about today’s military being an instrument of misguided foreign policy (“oil wars,” etc.). I’m commenting about its dishonest recruiting practices.

    Sue says:

    “My recruiter never even tried to lie to me.”
    That may be how it was “26 years ago” but not how it is today, a distinction comprehension not evidenced in your response to my observation that, “what you’re promised by a recruiter and what you get in the military it’s a LIE.” Therefore your subsequent posted comment that “My recruiter never even tried to lie to me” communicates disagreement, NOT “agreement with John.”

    Sue says:

    “It just kills me to have to agree with John even once.”

    How can you say that “you agree with John” (even once) when you counter that: (a) your “recruiter never lied to (you);” and, (b) you “can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone else join and risk their lives for an OIL WAR.”

    John’s point is clear that military recruiters should be shunned because they are dishonest, NOT because of an “oil war.”

    So rest assured dear Sue, you have not “killed” or harmed yourself (even once) because there is nothing in your comments to suggest you “agree with John even once” THAT MILITARY RECRUITERS BE SHUNNED BECAUSE THEY ARE DISHONEST. Your comments only indicate that you agree (with yourself) that: (1) YOUR RECRUITER NEVER LIED TO YOU; and, (2) NO ONE SHOULD RISK THEIR LIVES FOR AN OIL WAR. (Please excuse the LARGE print. It’s the special education teacher in me.)

    In my attempt to trigger your (hoped for) powers of corrective discernment I posed the following rhetorical question:

    “Sue, You’ve been out of the military quite a while haven’t you.”

    This (my) misguided effort to cause you to THINK and reflect has obviously failed. However, I take solace in knowing that it’s only through the trials & tribulations of failure that we come “to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    Thanks for clarifying your attempt at sarcasm Sue. Perhaps you should develop some reading comprehension skills before attempting again. Sarcasm has a way of back firing when you don’t comprehend what it is you’re trying to be sarcastic about.

    (end of *Sue’s* reality check)

  • An OUSD Highschooler

    I feel very strongly that military recruiters don’t belong on high school campuses. But I am utterly befuddled as to why military recruiters can get onto my school grounds by flashing a card when a college recruiter has to go through a process which ensures that I have never seen a college recruiter on my campus, yet the camouflage uniform is a seemingly weekly appearance.

  • DamoneCole New ANGman

    Given all of the troubles that our youth are constantly confronted by as a result of being on the streets of the U.S.A., I can not say that I am against military recruiters being at our high schools. I would much rather see our youth get out of troubled neighborhoods and explore the world and see what else life has to offer rather than just the same of violents and trouble that has been long plaquing our streets and society. We speak about the potential of danger that our teens face in the dessert, but truthfully, our youth may be safer in the dessert oppose to on the streets of Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, etc. Furthermore, I would say that the military is a great place start a career.

  • JC

    John, to quote you “How about the kids who joined with the promise of a signing bonus only to get critically injured, released from the military followed by a letter from the Pentagon demanding that the wounded soldier must return all or a portion of the signing bonus? This inexcusable behavior on the part of the military caused a congressman to initiate legislation that would allow wounded soldiers to keep (or receive) ALL that they had been promised before becoming “unfit” to complete their CONTRACTED period of service BECAUSE THEY WERE WOUNDED!”

    First, have ever enlisted into the military? Second, tell me what law you’re citing. Third, stop by a recruiters office sometime, when you don’t have your head up your fourth point of contact, and ask some question about the enlistment process. Granted it might take about an hour and a half but you will leave knowing that good recruiter’s tell the truth. Granted there are a few that tell lie’s to enlisted people, but recruiter’s can be subject to investigation for “telling lies.”

    To discuss the quote; find an enlistment into the military and read it before you make such erroneous statements. That’s why I’ve asked you to cite some law about bonuses. The truth, for those that care, is when you enlist into the Army (I know the process for the Army, I can’t speak for the rest) with a bonus there are clear terms for payment. If you enlist for 6 years but only complete 3 and have been injured in training or stateside, you will have to pay back nothing you won’t get the remainder of the bonus though. There is a difference especially if the person was found to have a preexisting condition and the injury is a result of their discharge. In any event, it’s a complicated topic to discuss and every instance is different. The military doesn’t have a cookie cutter approach to taking bonuses away from people.