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2004-04-20

No Child Left Unrecruited: Army Recruiters Target High Schools

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Democracy Now! speaks with Michael Cervantes, an Army veteran with Veterans for Peace who is campaiging against Bush’s policy to target high school students for military recruitment. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S. occupation of Iraq has descended into chaos. Over 700 U.S. troops have now been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the invasion, 100 of them in April alone. The past 14 days have reportedly been the deadliest two-week span for US troops since October 1971 during the Vietnam War.

In the face of overwhelming Iraqi resistance, the Pentagon has been forced to extend the stay of some 20,000 soldiers who were scheduled to leave soon for home. Over 130,000 U.S. soldiers remain stationed in Iraq.

But the American military empire stretches far beyond the Middle East. The U.S. maintains a vast network of bases on every continent except Antarctica spanning some 130 countries around the world and the government is continually looking for ways to replenish its overstretched military.

One place it is focusing its attention, is American high schools. Since 2001, the Bush administration has been requiring high schools to disclose student records to military recruiters or risk losing federal aid.

Under a mandate authorized by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act, recruiters are entitled to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of high school juniors and seniors, unless parents or students sign a form requesting that the data be withheld. Districts that don’t comply stand to lose millions in federal funding. As one Pentagon spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times, the policy "Allows the Department of Defense to recruit from a much broader, diverse and more representative group of the youth of America."

Yesterday in Santa Barbara I spoke with Michael Cervantes, an Army veteran with Veterans for Peace who is campaiging against Bush’s policy to target high school students for military recruitment. Cervantes fought in the Vietnam war after being drafted out of high school. I asked him what actions he had taken against the policy.

  • Michael Cervantes, an Army veteran with Veterans for Peace who is campaiging against a Bush administration policy that requires high schools to disclose student records to military recruiters or risk losing federal aid. He fought in the Vietnam War after being drafted out of high school.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday in Santa Barbara, I spoke with Michael Cervantes. He is an Army veteran who is now with Veterans for Peace, who is campaigning against Bush’s policy to target high school students for military recruitment. Michael Cervantes fought in the Vietnam War after being recruited right after high school. I asked him what actions he has taken against the policy?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: We started with P.T.A. meetings, and they were real polite and they told us thanks for visiting with us, and letting us know your concerns. This was about the names, addresses and phone numbers being released to the military now. But they said nothing more. So, I made an appointment to talk with the Board trustees at the Oxnard Junior High School District, with two other organizations, the Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions and the ACLU. We asked the Ventura Chapter President to be there. So, we presented for about 20 minutes to the Board, and they were real quiet with us. They really didn’t even respond, and it was like — next. They had someone else to present after us.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you trying to tell them? What were you asking?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: Well, we wanted them to notify the parents, actually. I knew by intuition that the school district had not been notifying the students, and it turns out that I was correct. We had been working with a district staffer, and we found — I found out through her. She said yes — the big question is, are you releasing the entire student body of the 11th and 12th grade students out to the military, and the answer to that is yes. So, you have a school district who is doing that and not notifying parents, which is a requirement of the law. So, little by little, we’re doing it step by step, trying to maybe even educate the Board. We came back to the Board a second time and presented, and still no — no one opening their mouths on the Board to us. The best we could get from them was that we have a public administrator that you can talk to about your questions, and — that’s been about it. The most publicity that I can get so far is from the — can I say the names of these magazines? V.C. Reporter did us real well. They published a two-page letter of mine in their weekly, and then the Ventura County Star published an article from me, and then now the "LA. Times" article just Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: You did, though, succeed in getting the school to send letters home to parents?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: Right. Now, we have been successful. They have told us that they would attach to the front of a —- of the parent-student handbook that’s made up every year, and sent out in the summertime. It’s a 63-page booklet. Now, attached to the front of the booklet will be an information page informing the parents that release can be made to the military, and that if you want to prevent that, if you want to block that release, you have to sign a consent form. That consent form is found in the parent-student handbook. Unfortunately, it’s the very last page, and it’s not perforated. It doesn’t look like something you want to separate from -—

AMY GOODMAN: The parent is opting out, then, for the kids, saying, I don’t want my kid’s name to be sent to the military, and if they don’t do it, it is automatically sent, boy or girl, high school or — high school student, young woman or young man?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: That is correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you feel so strongly about this? Why are you concerned about kids’ names being sent to the Pentagon?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: Well, it’s a matter, actually of students’ rights. It’s privacy rights. We want students’ names to stay at the district, and also I’m concerned about the war, Amy. I don’t — you know, we don’t need to have the students think that, you know, they have to go out and participate in this foreign policy. They’re going to be pressured by recruiters, and it’s not necessary for them to be pressured like that right now. They should think about getting their education. They should not have to be bothered at the high school level.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re also doing an interesting action at the beach on Sundays. You can describe that?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: Yes. I’m really happy with that. It’s a special action. For me, I view it as a memorial. It’s an innocent hologram. I like to describe it that way, because you can take it away with you since you have seen that. We are placing one cross for each killed Iraqi soldier — I’m sorry not Iraqi soldier, American soldier in the Iraq war. When the project started, I believe it started with 275 crosses back in November, and this past Sunday, we placed 691 crosses out at the beach, and we have had very close relations, memorialized fallen soldiers in the past several weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of you do this?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: We have a core of about 9 to 12 town hall activists and Veterans for Peace members participating.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of reaction to you get?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: It’s varied. It is really varied. Most of it is approval. For me, personally, people will ask what it is out there, and then after having explained, as I just explained, they’ll walk away saying, what a waste, the war is stupid. For me, that’s the majority of the — of what’s been communicated to me. People are positive. They think we’re doing good work by doing that. And we’ll get an occasional person who will not think it’s a good idea to be using the dead as a promotion to political thoughts.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to that?

MICHAEL CERVANTES: Well, actually, we try not to give that type of a person a stage at the wharf. It’s a very busy wharf. There are a lot of tourists out there. And I usually — I usually don’t stay and speak to a person too very long. I’ll tell them that I have been at a war, and to me, that this is what our project represents, something good, and through seeing such a tragedy as all of that, you just have got to think that it’s not right, but why are we having our sons and daughters perish like that, for what?

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Cervantes. Vietnam Veteran, who is taking on the Pentagon and trying to make sure that parents of high school students know that their kid’s information is given to the Pentagon unless they proactively tell the high school not to pass on that information.

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