Military Recruiters: It’s Their Job to Harass Students

El Vaquero Staff Writer

After 12 excruciatingly long and persistent rings, I finally picked up the phone. On the other end, a complete stranger made it very easy for me by saying very seductively that she wanted me.

To think that all this time I had been sound asleep.

I awoke on Feb. 4 to voice of Staff Sgt. Stringer and while I resisted the offer initially, I was ultimately coaxed into going over to her place on Colorado Boulevard and Verdugo Road “just to talk.” After all, I did not want to be impolite.

“The Marine Corps can help you pay for college when you transfer to a university and we pay you every two weeks…free health benefit…free dental care…a place on a military base,” Stringer told me, more or less, within a three-hour span. “Wouldn’t that make your parents proud?”
I knew exactly what it would make them: irate.

Yet here I was in a recruiter’s office being told I could be a military lawyer like Tom Cruise in “A few Good Men.” That’s what got me, especially when she said Uncle Sam would pay for it. One weekend a month at boot camp was the only prerequisite. What followed, however, killed any interest I had in serving.

Stringer placed multicolored wooden tabs on the table, some of which read “Financial Security” and “Technical Expertise.” She asked that they be arranged in the order of most importance to me, from top to bottom. I felt like I was in kindergarten again.

“That’s a good start,” a young officer said when I could only do two pull-ups on a black, steel post kept by the door.

Fifteen minutes earlier he was not as optimistic. You do not seem to know who you are or what you want, he said, referring to my not having a major after two years at GCC.

Next, I took the military’s version of Glendale College’s English and math placement tests and tanked them purposely just to hear their reactions

“That’s not so bad,” said Stringer, nice enough to make an exception in recruitment protocol just for me.

If you act now, we’ll send you to boot camp tomorrow at 4 a.m., the young officer basically said, trying to close the deal.

My final answer was “no thanks,” even though I received a few more calls thereafter urging me to reconsider.

Nine months later, I passed the office again while riding the 85 Metro bus heading for GCC. All I saw was an empty room next to the livelier “Top Hits Music” and “Rainbow Cleaners” stores.

The sight sent chills down my spine. Questions galore suddenly popped into my head. Where did they go? What if I had signed up back then? Would I be in Iraq right now or worse?

Since March 2003, the Department of Defense reports the body count in Iraq stands at 1,119 American soldiers, 860 of which have died in combat. The number includes nine marines who were recently killed in a car bombing in the Iraqi city of Fallouja, just west of Baghdad.

To think, I could have been a solider in the same division who, according to Robert Burns of the Associated Press, account for most of the casualties in Iraq.

A former Glendale College reservist, 27, who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of reprimand, said recruiters will take anyone.

“They give you a drug test before and after boot camp. You’d be surprised how many people failed these tests…they fail it on purpose so they can get out…but they still stick around.”

Recruiters are “so disorganized, they don’t know what’s going on… they should have known I was discharged…then I got another letter from them to join in the mail…and also more calls.”

Could I have been sent to Iraq?

Down the hall from Stringer’s new office at the Westfield Shopping Mall in Eagle Rock, in the Army office, Sgt. 1st Class Rivera answered my question.

“If you sign up for any branch of the armed services,” said Rivera, “you always have a chance of getting deployed, whether it is deployed over Iraq or around the country.

“In any branch, if they [new recruits] don’t know they can be deployed for a long period of time then somebody’s not telling them the truth.”
Less than a year ago, Stringer made it clear that deployment was improbable.

“How did they even get my number?” I went online in search of the answer.

In March, the United States House of Representatives passed the “ROTC and Military Recruiters Equal Access to Campus Act,” also known as H.R. 3966. The act was signed into law last week by President Bush and will strengthen the ’96 Solomon Amendment, which currently requires colleges to release student information to military recruiters upon request or lose funding from the Department of Defense.

Fortunately, however, student aid is no longer at risk, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office reports, because of an amendment passed by Congress in 2000, H.R. 2561, which excludes these funds from penalization for noncompliance with the law.

H.R. 3966 will also punish uncooperative colleges by eliminating funding from those institutions that receive research and other grants from the Central Intelligence Agency and the departments of Homeland Security, Energy, Justice and Transportation.

I had never heard of Solomon before. Possibly because the Department of Defense warns colleges not to inform students of the law, according to “The Solomon Amendment: A Guide for Recruiters and Students Records Managers 2001,” lest they find out about their rights to privacy, specifically the 1974 Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). I was ignorant to this as well.

The act protects student “directory information” (including name, major, dates of attendance and degrees achieved) from disclosure if a “Request for Confidentiality Hold on Student Record” form is filled out at the Office of Admissions and Records. Alas, FERPA keeps this information from everyone else including potential employers and does not safeguard phone numbers.

I felt so stupid. Here I had the power to prevent what happened and did nothing about it.

While my phone number could have been released, I know they would not have bothered me if they were unaware that I had been at GCC for more than two years; probably what made me a prime target. Now my information is in the military loop and it is too late to fill out that form.

The overall experience was alarming. And while I am angry that my information was released without my permission, I do not transfer the sentiment to recruiters who are merely trying to meet quotas in order to do their jobs, as questionable as their methods may be.

There is no black and white in this scenario, only shades of gray.
Rivera, for instance, has served for 20 years and plans to retire in a year and a half at the age of 38. The military is his livelihood just as it is for Stringer who recently purchased a home with military money.
At some point they saw the military the same way I did: as a means of securing their future.