The Marine recruiters found Alex, age 19, at the Wendy's drive-up window where he worked. Alex dreams of being a lawyer after he earns his GED. The recruiters told Alex the Marines would make him into a lawyer. They took Alex to a used car lot. They told him about a cash bonus for enlisting. "You can have any car on this lot," they said, "if you sign a contract with us." Alex agreed to come to the recruiting office the next day to enlist.
That evening at his GED class, Alex mentioned his meeting with the Marine recruiters to his teacher, whom Alex knew to be a veteran. His teacher put Alex in touch with an African-American veteran (Alex is also African-American). The two of them talked, and Alex came to a meeting of a counter-recruiting effort recently launched in Albuquerque called Another Side.
Alex never went to the Marine recruiting center. If Another Side has its way, he won't be the last young man or young woman they dissuade from enlisting.
Another Side is the local manifestation of what is becoming a national counter-recruiting movement. Another Side relies heavily on veterans. Many of them, like Maurice Martin, have seen combat. Martin may be one of the most effective spokespeople to teach young people about the hard truths they won't hear from military recruiters. Martin, you see, is one of America's more than 500,000 homeless veterans.
Martin speaks to teenagers about the downsides of military service, "because I am a combat vet. These young people need to know they are going to Hell" when they face war. "And," he continues, "recruiters need to stop using gimmicks to lure young people. The government hasn't kept its promises to many vets. These kids need to be told the full sacrifice they will make even after the government is done using them."
Martin says young people have told him about military recruiters guaranteeing they will never see combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. That isn't true, says Martin. "And the promise that the government will take care of them and their families for life if they are hurt also isn't true."
Corey Anderson spent over five years as a captain in the Air Force. He comes from a military family. All his siblings have served or are serving, including a sister who participated in siege of Nasiriyah during the early days of the conquest of Iraq. Anderson emphasizes Another Side is about "truth and fairness in recruiting."
"I know recruiters are not telling the truth," Anderson says. He is especially critical of two "incentives" for enlistment: the "limited" 15-month contract and the signing bonus. Anderson explains that, even though enlistment is technically limited to 15 months, the serviceman is really on the hook for a full eight years as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve. The 15-month term itself is meaningless because it can be extended by a "stop loss" order, which is happening to thousands of men and women forced to stay in Iraq even though they have fulfilled their enlistment commitment.
Anderson calls the signing bonus "crap." He bases that opinion on his brother's experience. "By the time they were ready to give my brother his bonus," says Anderson, "he had been living on only $1,100 a month for two-and-a-half years, and the IRS immediately notified him they wanted a third for taxes."
Another Side's network includes public school teachers who witness the abuses by military recruiters desperate to fill monthly quotas. A little known provision of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" act requires schools to provide the military with the name, telephone number and home address of all students. The law also requires that military recruiters be permitted access to schools and the children themselves.
Teachers in Another Side's network report instances of military recruiters asking that the "discipline and school work problem kids" be identified by administrators, and then pulling the kids out of class to pressure them to enlist.
Counter-recruiting efforts have sprung up in Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Taos, Las Cruces and El Paso. They will come together with Another Side for a workshop on the UNM campus July 21-24 that seeks to educate students, parents, teachers and activists about deceptive and abusive military recruiting practices. The workshop will highlight how parents can shield their children from recruiters as well as the rights of individuals considering enlistment. The workshop has been endorsed by Veterans for Peace and the GI Forum. For information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.