Youth Warned About US Military Recruiters Methods
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Aug. 24, 2004
- Interview with Oskar Castro, American Friends Service Committee, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/castro082704.ram
As the war in Iraq continues to go badly for American-led forces, there are indications that the U.S. military is having trouble meeting its quotas for new recruits. Earlier this year, the Pentagon issued "stop-loss" orders to keep thousands of GIs on active duty in Iraq even though they have fulfilled their service requirements. New recruits who signed up under the Delayed Entry Program used to wait almost a year before being activated, but now the Pentagon is calling them sooner, thus making filling its quota for the following year potentially more difficult.
In another indication of disruptions caused by the Iraq war, President Bush announced, on Aug. 16, the re-deployment of 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Korea to U.S. bases and areas closer to terrorist threats. Some 12,000 American troops in South Korea will soon be sent to Iraq.
Oskar Castro is with the National Youth and Militarism Program of the American Friends Service Committee, based in Philadelphia. He was a presenter at a counter-recruitment workshop at the Boston Social Forum in July, where he talked about methods military recruiters use to convince young people to sign up, including often illusory promises of training, jobs and money for college. His organization presents the other side of the picture, for example, informing youth that under the Delayed Entry Program, before they are called up, they can change their minds about joining the military and suffer no adverse consequences. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Castro about his group's counter-recruitment campaign.
Oskar Castro: My biggest concern is that young people are being recruited into the military under false pretenses, and under illusions of patriotism and honor, as well as under the illusion of getting something -- like money for college, or a career opportunity, etc. and that they’re not being told that they could die, that they could get sick, that they could get sexually harassed, that they won’t get the money for college. And that’s my biggest concern, that they’re being misled into the military.
Between The Lines: You said 65 percent of those who sign up don’t get the benefits they thought they were entitled to, like $50,000 for college, because they don’t fulfill all the requirements necessary, and military recruiters never tell them about those things. But is it spelled out in the contract, and it’s just that recruiters verbally are less than honest?
Oskar Castro: It’s in the small print. It’s part of military regulations that enable that. And in order to get even the full $50,000, they say "up to $50,000," some recruiters say, "You’re going to get $50,000, I guarantee it." They won’t put it in writing. But they’re not told that in order to do that they also have to qualify for the Army Navy College Fund and very few people will qualify for the Army Navy College Fund and have the right test scores in order to get the full $50,000, and leave the military under honorable conditions, and serve the full four years. So, yeah, it’s in the fine print; military recruiters don’t usually read the fine print. You’d be challenged even to get a military enlistment contract for your parents to read. Why would you want your parents to read that? Just sign, you know.
Between The Lines: And what percentage don’t get honorable discharges and what percent don’t serve their full hitch? You said both these things prevent enlistees from getting their benefits.
Oskar Castro: It’s about 20-25 percent, I believe, who get discharged under less than honorable conditions. And therefore, even though they’ve put $1,200 of their hard-earned money into the GI package deal, they don’t get that back, they don’t get anything they might have accumulated in terms of the matching of the funds, so if you’re booted out of the military under a bad conduct discharge, other than honorable, even a general discharge, you don’t get the money for college. You have to get an honorable discharge. Otherwise, you don’t get anything at all.
Between The Lines: What is the racial breakdown of recruits?
Oskar Castro: Well, in the African American community, it’s disproportionate. African Americans are about 13 percent of the nation in the general population, particularly if you’re talking about recruitment-age folks, too. But they’re over 20 percent of the nation’s military, with the largest proportion being in the Army, which is the largest branch, really. In the Latino community, which is just a little above the African American community -- about 13.5 percent and rising -- they are under-represented in the military at roughly about 9.5 percent of the military, which is a concern for the military.
Between The Lines: You raised concerns about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s comment before the war started that, it would be fought predominantly by white military personnel, reflecting the still majority-white population of the U.S. You didn’t agree with that?
Oskar Castro: He didn’t go into the whole idea of how they wage war. They send in the elite troops -- they send in the Navy Seals, the Marine Corps, the Green Berets, the Army Rangers. They send in these folk, who are overwhelmingly white men, not even women of course. They go in and they make the early mess.
But who comes back to the front line to maintain what these folks have done, or to continue moving, and it’s overwhelmingly people of color, poor people, African American, poor white. Latinos are overwhelmingly represented in combat positions, even though they’re under-represented in the military. So almost 18 percent of them who are in the military are in combat positions. And there’s a lot to say about that culturally and economically; you get more pay if you’re in those more dangerous roles.
War is war, and whether you’re a soldier who happens to be a mechanic, or an infantryman, if you’re anywhere in that theater of war, and particularly if you just look at the lens of Iraq and the whole problem we’re having with soldiers in their Humvees with roadside bombs indiscriminately blowing up, not people who are engaging in combat, but people who are going from one place to another, who happen to be wearing the uniform. If you wear the uniform, you’re a target. And overwhelmingly, there are a lot of men and women of color who wear that uniform who aren’t there to kill or be killed per se, that are in harm’s way and will be in harm’s way, and a lot of them have been experiencing that in Iraq.
For more information, call (215) 241-7176 or visit their website at http://www.afsc.org/youthmil
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending Aug. 27, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.