Monday, July 11, 2005

On Military Recruiting - The Write Stuff







"It's hard, at 18, to distill your core values into a few words or sentences. I've talked to military recruiters, no doubt decent people who are only trying to fill their quotas, who were so aggressive that I could barely find a gap in their bombastic monologues in which to say, 'No thank you, I'm a pacifist,' and hang up the phone." Alicia Puglionesi, 2005 Haverford High School graduate, entering the University of Pennsylvania this fall

Writing--and reading interesting, evocative, provocative writing--is, to me anyway, a calling, a holy grail. I'm a good writer (she said modestly). I damn well better be, my Ivy League education cost a fortune. And I've spent more than half a lifetime gaining the kind of knowledge and skill it takes to put together an elegant turn of phrase, a clever sentence, the visceral whack of just the right words parsed just the right way.

I've been feeling justifiably proud that my output here--with a few time-out, I can't think exceptions--has conveyed ideas, emotions, attitudes, frustrations, ideologies, dreams and experiences with a certain erudition, lucidity, wit, even charm.

Then I read a Commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer submitted by an 18-year-old young woman describing her take on the current military recruiting practices in high schools. And I was frankly blown away. Alicia Puglionesi writes with a polished, personal, literate style and sophistication that conveys maturity and wisdom--and talent--far beyond her tender years.

I was going to write a piece on the outrage of Backdoor Pentagon Recruiting, but Alicia said it all, and then some. Here is her commentary in its entirety. I bet you'll agree that despite sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the flowers of our future are blooming in public schools ... and should be cherished and nurtured for the growth they bring to all of us.


Posted on Mon, Jul. 11, 2005
No thank you; please butt out
By Alicia Puglionesi

The Air Force called the other day. That didn't surprise me because the Marines, Navy and National Guard also have been dialing my number quite a bit lately.

I am, of course, very flattered by all this attention. Yet I can't help but wonder what I did to deserve it. Maybe they saw me pumping those 5-pound dumbbells at the gym. Or perhaps my winning personality convinced them that I'm exactly what this country needs to pull its armed forces out of their current funk. One more possibility is that an act of Congress forced my public high school to disclose all of its students' names and phone numbers so that we could become fodder for the massive recruiting machine that consumes almost $4 billion of this country's defense budget. (My parents signed a form so that my information would not be divulged, but guess what?)

Sadly, my conversation with an Air Force sergeant named Dave led me to believe that the last option was correct. He didn't know about my workout routine and didn't seem very interested in my personality. In fact, he couldn't even pronounce my name right.

The truth is that my personal qualities are probably not compatible with those necessary for a successful military career; I'm afraid of guns, missiles, and anything that explodes.

When informed of this, Sgt. Dave paused for a moment, then proceeded to describe the critical role of Air Force support staff such as kitchen and maintenance workers. Apparently, no one told him that I hate cooking and cleaning.

To avoid such awkward calls in the future, the Pentagon has embarked on a massive effort to compile private information about every high school and college student in the country, beginning at age 16. The database will consist of prosaic things such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, and e-mail addresses, but it will also contain each student's ethnicity, grade-point average, and courses of study.

Next time Sgt. Dave calls, he can tailor his pitch to appeal to a white high school graduate who had a 3.92 grade-point average and who now is an English major in college.

That is what truly disturbs me about this Orwellian undertaking - it can easily be used to profile people based on race, education and class. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the need for the United States to maintain a strong defensive military force, and I count myself among its passive beneficiaries. But I could never go to war. To fight competently, you have to believe that the enemy on the other side of the battlefield deserves to die. I simply cannot do that.

I'm not concerned that, when the Army calls me up, I might be won over against my better judgment. What worries me is that under the No Child Left Behind Act - and particularly with the Pentagon's creepy new database - teenagers who are not certain of their beliefs could be pressured to join the military without truly understanding what they're getting into.

It's hard, at 18, to distill your core values into a few words or sentences. I've talked to military recruiters, no doubt decent people who are only trying to fill their quotas, who were so aggressive that I could barely find a gap in their bombastic monologues in which to say, "No thank you, I'm a pacifist," and hang up the phone.

These are not friendly recruiting calls; they are more like psychological warfare. Recruiters are trained to manipulate and persuade young people. They often target minorities, underachievers and the underprivileged.

The new Pentagon database will further promote this predatory behavior, allowing recruiters to zero in on kids with the "right" profile.

In a nation served by an all-volunteer military, the armed forces have a right to make themselves visible through recruiting stations and advertising. I think, however, that the choice to enlist must be a conscious one, arrived at through personal deliberation, rather than through coercion.

The military can extend its hand in an open public forum, but it should not be able to reach into your home and your private life so that Sgt. Dave can call you and say, "I see your grades have been slipping. You probably won't get that scholarship you were hoping for. Have you ever considered the Air Force?"


Bravo! If this is a representative of our future, we're in good hands.

Philadelphia Inquirer 07/11/2005 No thank you; please butt out


Labels: , ,

5 Comments:

Blogger SCarrGo said...

Thank you for posting that. I work at a high school. We regularly get complaints from parents that recruiters are calling their children, even though they signed a form asking that their information not be disclosed. We aren't distributing this information--it is coming from another source.

I am also concerned about how easily "sold" a kid can be, if they feel as if their options after high school are limited. Add to that the fact that I know from past experiences that a recruiter will promise a kid just about anything to get them to sign on the dotted line, then conveniently "forget" their promises once they have the student's commitment. Every time I hear a student say that they are talking to a recruiter, I implore them to get everything in writing--not that this assures me that recruitment promises will be upheld, but more to illustrate the fact that they are being sold a bill of goods--the guy recruiting them doesn't even have the authority to offer them the things that they are promising, in many cases.

Students are very surprised when they hear my stories of friends and relatives who went into the military service with promises of becoming trained physicians (or whatever) and end up as hotel clerks in Okinawa. The reality is very different than the sales pitch.

Young people are sold something many, many times a day, and they apply so much importance to the things that they are sold (be it soft drinks or a clothing line) after being constantly bombarded with the images that they must have these things to be cool. Advertisers do their jobs very well. I don't blame the advertisers, necessarily--it is OK for a person to sell a thing in our free market, and it is my job as a parent to help my child see the true value of things and weed out the garbage. Is something more cool because it has a certain name brand? No, and once kids learn that a little boy or girl their own age made the object of their desire in a 3rd world country for 3 cents pay, they start to see things for what they really are.

The danger, as far as I am concerned, is when people start to sell you a lifestyle, which is what the military is. When it comes right down to the very end of all we have in this world, the one thing that EVERYBODY possesses is a certain amount of time to walk around on this earth. We all only have so much time. The military committment is years long, and if you are an unskilled person, you get stuck there--they get training, to be sure, but training for what? What about life after the military? Did you get trained to do something that you could do in the real world? In many cases, you don't, and there you are, back in your hometown, stuck. After giving your all to your country, you become an unskilled laborer because the promises of education never came true.

THAT is what scares me about recruitment.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a military recruiter, I am assigned to perform a mission, a mission of great importance. I have been chosen to find those few individuals that are actually qualified to serve in the military. I am not the one that made up the rules and regulations that govern who and who can not enlist in the military, but the truth of the matter is you nonetheless have to be qualified to join. Now I chose this career on my own accord. I've heard the stories of bad recruiters, and I have no doubt that they exist. But I've also heard the stories of bad teachers, government officials and religious leaders. That being said, there can be no profession with out any bad apples. The only thing I wish for is the opportunity to present my military story. I enlisted at 17 with no college education, and here I am currently 4 classes away from my associates. I will be retired at the age of 37, if I live to see that age, but no one on the street can guarantee me a tomorrow. If I do make it to 37, I will have my bachelors degree, 20 years working experience and collecting 50% of my base pay every month, for the rest of my life. The military is not for everyone, that I am aware of. I just wish that before someone would make any comment about anything, they would try to see how things are from the other side.

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think pride in one's nation is important. I also believe that defense of one's nation is expected and to be respected. I see nothing wrong with volunteering to become part of one's country's defense provided that volunteer is fully informed and able to choose given all the facts concerning that choice. I have a brother who served in the Army and is now two years away from his MBA. So one can say you can join the army, go to school, and come out a skilled worker.

I personally chose not to even consider the army because I hate the idea of being told not to think, but rather to just follow orders even if you think that the orders are wrong.

The truth of the matter is the military serves a purpose that goes beyond just defending a nation. It is the muscle used to influence other nations, and I fear in this world a lot of disinformation and ulterior motives drive the political and military arms of government.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for those that serve in the army and I hate when fools speak out and say that people who protest against the military being used for war are against the actual soldiers who are serving. I feel most protesters are against the "war" itself and the idea of it not those who make the sacrifice to serve in it.

I have to say though, that I've noticed heavy recruitment efforts taking place in minority and underprivileged neighborhoods. It seems that there is an agenda at work to say hey the more privileged and elite children should be the ones to benefit from the service of the underprivileged in the army. Honestly think about this. Wealthy spoiled kids will almost never choose to join the army if asked because they'll say "I have money, I'm going to work on Wall Street, or for Chase, or any number of big corporations I'm not trying to get killed in some war.

I want to live it up and enjoy life. Whereas recruiters will look to those with less of those career and life prospects as the fall back guys. "Get them they don't have much to look forward to. Give them some hope and a glimpse of a life a little better than where they are now and they'll accept it.

I find it very laughable for those who would say there are well to do or wealthy citizens who have elected to serve in the military when they neglect to look at the motives behind those who have done it for political reasons and when in service have never been near a battle field. Protected and coddled and the viewed as hero's in order to run for president one day. Chess comes to mind when I think on this issue. Let the pawns go first. Personally I believe most of the minorities and underprivileged are the pawns.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BEING THAT I AM AN ACTIVE DUTY ARMY RECRUITER, I MUST SAY THIS ARTICLE IS SOMEWHAT FUNNY. IF I HAD THE ABILITY TO TALK SOMEONE INTO DOING SOMETHING THEY WOULD OTHERWISE NEVER CONSIDER DOING, I WOULD BE A RICH MAN. THE FACT IS AFTER 15 MONTHS AS A RECRUITER I HAVE YET TO TALK ANYONE INTO JOINING THE ARMY. I JUST PROCESS THE PAPERWORK FOR THE IDIVIDUAL THAT IS WANTING TO SERVE THERE COUNTRY. FOR EVERYONE WHO (SUPPORTS OUR TROOPS) BUT LOOKS DOWN AT THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE THE COMMUNITIES FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE ORGANIZATIONS THEY REPRESENT, YOU ARE MISINFORMED, AND IGNORANT. RECRUITERS GET SELECTED FOR RECRUITING DUTY MANY TIMES REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE INDIVIDUAL WANTS TO DO. IN SOME CASES IT MIGHT BE A REQUIREMENT FOR CAREER PROGRESSION. REGARDLESS MOST OF THE TIME IT IS NOT A CHOICE, UNLESS YOU DECIDE TO SPEND THE REST OF YOUR CAREER TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION YOU REPRESENT. WE GET SELECTED TO SPEND 3 YEARS AS A RECRUITER, WE TRY TO MAKE THE BEST OF A BAD SITUATION. DEALING WITH HIGH SCHOOL COUNCELORS, TEACHERS AND PARENTS ON ALMOST A DAILY BASIS, I HAVE LEARNED A FEW THINGS. STUDENTS WHO WANT TO JOIN A BRANCH OF SERVICE ARE GOING TO JOIN WITH OR WITHOUT PARENTAL SUPPORT, WITH OR WITHOUT COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS, AND REGARDLESS OF HOW SMART OR NOT SO SMART THEY ARE. NOTHING WILL CHANGE THIS INCLUDING PROTEST, KEEPING RECRUITERS OUT OF SCHOOLS, OR WHATEVER ELSE YOU CAN THINK OF. AS FAR AS PROFILING...THE IDEA ALONE CRACKS ME UP. I HAVE ENLISTED INTO THE ARMY WEALTHY STUDENTS WHO TURNED DOWN FULL RIDE SCHOLARSHIPS TO WELL KNOWN COLLEGES AGAINST THERE PARENTS WILL. AND I HAVE SEEN STUDENTS WITH ABSOLUTALY NOTHING GOING FOR THEM TURN DOWN THE BENEFITS THEY WILL NEVER FIND ELSEWHERE DESPITE THE PARENTS SUPPORT OF THE MILITARY OPTOIN. THE FACT IS...EITHER YOU FEEL THE NEED TO SERVE OR YOU FEEL THE NEED TO NEGLECT JURY DUTY AND LET SOMEONE ELSE WHO IS BETTER THAN YOU WILL EVER BE PUT THERE LIFE ON THE LINE TO KEEP YOUR WAY OF LIFE SECURED. WHEN YOU LAY DOWN IN BED TONIGHT, REMEMBER THERE ARE MANY MEN AND WOMEN, WHO WILL NOT SLEEP SO COMFORTABLE FOR THERE JOB IS TO MAKE SURE NO HARM COMES TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. AND THEY DON'T NEED OR WANT SYPATHY, IT WAS THERE CHOICE, IT WAS MY CHOICE FOR 7 YEARS AND 2 COMBAT TOURS TO IRAQ, TIME AWAY FROM MY WIFE AND KIDS, TO DO WHAT I DO, WHAT THEY DO. IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE MILITARY THEN DON'T JOIN, OTHERWISE SHUT UP...WE ARE A VOLUNTEER FORCE THAT DOES NOT GET DISCOURAGED BY YOUR VEIWS, BUT RATHER MOTIVATED THAT IF IT WEREN'T FOR PEOPLE LIKE US THERE WOULD BE NO YOU!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For every recruiter there are many more (unpaid) counter-recruiters.

There's "Army Strong" and then there is ARMY WRONG!

see: www.armywrong.net

11:14 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home