Out of School and Into the Military
ll my life I’ve liked the military,”
said Adrian Paez, a Colombian immigrant and a senior at East Boston
High School. At 17, Paez (not his real name) says, “When I
think of the Army, I don’t think about dying I think of everything
I can do, everything I can learn, everything I can be.”
Paez and his family fled Colombia to escape rural violence and economic
adversity in an increasingly militarized society. A year after arriving
to the United States, he became a member of the Junior Reserve Officer
Training Core (JROTC) at East Boston High where he has been learning
the basics of military training for the past three years. Promoted
as a leadership and character development program, in reality JROTC
entices minority, low-income students to join the armed forces.
As detailed in the Army’s Operation and Maintenance Budget
Estimate for FY 2005, “JROTC does not impose an obligation
to serve in the military; however, a by-product of this program
may be an interest in the military service.” Conceptualized
in 1916 as a collaborative effort between the Department of Education
and the Department of Defense, JROTC currently serves 400,000 students
in 2,600 schools nationwide at a cost of about $165 million annually.
“I wouldn’t want to go [to Iraq], but it’s not like
I’m afraid to go,” Paez said about recruiting efforts
at his high school. His story reflects the vulnerability that young
students face to military recruitment, particularly among Latino/as,
and how policies under the Bush administration have made it easier
for recruiters to exploit this vulnerability.
In its 2005 fiscal report the Department of the Army stated that
about 42 percent of the JROTC graduates choose either to enter a
ROTC program in college, one of the service academies, or serve
in the active or reserve force. “With numbers like that it’s
obvious to us that JROTC is doing a great job collaborating with
recruiting efforts,” said Oskar Castro, Program Associate at
the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) National Youth
& Militarism Program. It’s illegal to recruit minors into
the military, yet students as young as 14 are regularly approached
and advised to pursue a military career through their high school’s
JROTC. As the Department of Defense introduced two new recruiting
initiatives in 2000, College First and GED Plus, Colin Powell expressed
the importance of attracting students to the military at a young
age. “We know why we want high school graduates. They have
a tendency to be more adaptable to military life,” said Powell.
The relationship developed with school administrators is critical
for recruiters. According to the 2004 School Recruiting Program
Handout (SRPH) published by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, “Establishing
rapport with school officials is a key step in maintaining access
to schools. To effectively work the school market, recruiters must
maintain rapport through SY and develop a good working relationship
“Influencers” are not limited to guidance counselors.
The SRPH encourages recruiters to cultivate relationships with coaches,
librarians, administrative staff, teachers, and anyone else who
might be helpful in providing information on how to effectively
communicate with specific students.
In February 2000 the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee,
chaired by then Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), held hearings on
armed forces recruiting and retention of personnel. At the hearings,
Master Sergeant Jamie Cranada, a Califonia Air Force recruiter with
five years of experience, mentioned how it was easier to approach
schools with JROTC programs. “We concentrate on those schools
with JROTC. The others do not let us in and we do not focus there,”
he said. “I do my best in high schools with JROTC,” said
Staff Sergeant Reginald Hamilton, an Air Force recruiter, in response
to Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) question on the value of JROTC
units to recruiting. “There are four in my area. They look
at us to train. It helps reverse the trend. A definite plus,”
said Staff Sergeant Sean McElroy, a U.S. Marine and a recruiter
in Georgia. Military recruiters expressed a general frustration
with having access to high school and college students’ contact
information where such programs do not exist.
When asked about sanctions on high schools that were not supportive
of recruiters’ efforts, most recruiter chiefs agreed that such
change in policy would be detrimental to the image of the armed
forces. “DOD believes it would be a lose-lose to leverage high
schools. We feel it would be better to reconnect on a public relations
front,” said Alphonso Maldon, Assistant Secretary of Defense,
Force Management Policy. “We do not want a situation where
we are let into the schools and become a target of criticism.”
Nevertheless, Senator Hutchinson introduced the Military Recruiter
Access Enhancement Act of 2000, which denies federal educational
assistance funds to local educational agencies that do not allow
the DOD access to secondary school students. Hutchinson was instrumental
in including this provision in the No Child Left Behind Act. In
effect since 2001, all secondary schools must provide directory
information about their students for military recruiting purposes.
BeNow, a database marketing company based in Wakefield, Massachusetts,
was hired to process the 12 million names collected so far.
Written into the law is the requirement that schools must notify
parents and students of their right to keep their contact information
private. In effect, the law coerces schools to release student contact
information to the military while relegating the responsibility
of informing parents of the law to under-staffed schools.
Latino/as As Recruitment Target
t East Boston High guidance
counselors like to introduce recently arrived immigrants to JROTC,
particularly those students who speak little or no English and need
extra support from their peers. “It’s a good way for me
to say, you know, you’re going into a class that is taught
by a person who only speaks English but [you’ll find] the support
provided by the students in the team,” said Claudia Rodriguez,
As the fastest growing youth group in the nation, the Latino/a population
has become a top priority in recruiting efforts. The Latino/a population
among 18-year-olds is expected to grow from 14 to 22 percent over
the next 15 years, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. “This
increase, paired with the fact that the high school graduation rate
for Hispanics is lower than for other groups, is an important issue
given the Services’ interest in enlisting a high proportion
of high school graduates,” details a report titled “Attitudes,
Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military
Recruitment,” issued in 2003 by the Committee on Youth Population
and Military Recruitment under the Secretary of Defense.
Committee was established in 1999 at the request of the DOD Office
of Accession Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense
to examine a broad range of questions concerning the characteristics
of the 21st century youth population and sub-populations that are
likely to influence recruitment efforts. The Committee examined
options available to youth and recommended various recruiting and
advertising strategies and incentive programs.
Following these recommendations, the armed forces have been targeting
minority youth, particularly Latino/as. In June 2001, of the $150
million that the Army spent on its campaign, $11.3 million went
to Spanish-language advertising compared to $3.5 million for ads
aimed at African Americans.
Latino/as meet several of the variables that, according to the National
Defense Research Institute (NDRI), recruiters look for in applicants
to prevent personnel attrition—mother’s education, family
income, and number of siblings. These are all variables that, according
to NDRI, makes these students less likely to attend college and
therefore more likely to enlist in the military.
Undocumented immigrants cannot join the armed forces, but U.S. residents
can. If Paez were granted legal status in this country, he would
be one among the 37,000 noncitizens referred to as “green card”
troops or immigrants with permanent alien cards serving in the U.S.
military. Once in the military, however, green card troops face
other challenges. Noncitizens cannot become officers and are excluded
from technical and specialty programs, such as intelligence, electronics,
aircrew, and the Navy SEALs. The Pew Research Foundation has estimated
that, although under-represented in the armed forces as a whole,
about 18 percent of Latino/a immigrants end up in combat-related
Massachussetts High Schools
t the local level, actual
recruitment numbers per high school are hard to come by. Local recruiters
will direct individuals interested in statistics to JROTC programs
and JROTC instructors claim that they do not keep track. “We
don’t know. Usually the kids don’t go [to the military]
right out of high school. We find many more times than not that
they’ll come in and go after the fact, which is very, very
strange to me. You would think that they go in immediately, but
they don’t,” said Colonel Gerald Wellman, a senior instructor
at East Boston High’s JROTC.
The best assessment on the number of high school students who join
the military is available through the Department of Education based
on exit surveys taken by graduating students. According to the DOE
in Massachusetts, the percentage of students who say they are planning
to enter the military decreased from 4 percent in 1978 to 2.1 percent
in 2003. Among racial/ethnic groups in the state of Massachusetts
in 2003, Latino/as had the highest number of students planning to
join the military at 3.7 percent, followed by whites and Native
Americans at 2.2 percent each, and African Americans at 1.2 percent.
The presence of JROTC programs, in combination with low-income levels,
plays an important role in influencing students’ decisions
to join the military. At Lawrence High in northern Massachusetts
as many as 10.3 percent of its students expressed interest in joining
the military on their exit survey in 2003. Lawrence High has a JROTC
program, 75 percent of its students were reported as low income,
and it has a dropout rate of 10.4 percent; 85 percent of the students
are of Latino/a descent.
Roxbury High and Hyde Park High both have JROTC programs and recruitment
figures are as high as 4 percent each, 2 percent higher than the
state’s average. Low-income levels at each high school were
reported at 68.3 and 67.1 percent respectively. In both schools
over 50 percent of the student population is Latino/a.
An interesting exception is English High, a school with a similar
profile but a much lower recruitment propensity rate. The school
has a JROTC program and 77.1 percent of the students were reported
as low income, and 90 percent of the students belong to a Latino/a
or African American ethnic group. The number of students expressing
interest in joining the military has been at 0 percent since 2001.
“I think we have a great college readiness program,” said
Elena Gelinas, guidance counselor at English High, when asked about
reasons for low military recruitment numbers in her school. English
High’s college readiness program includes college education
at assemblies, individualized meetings, and classrooms workshops.
English High also manages a National College Fair every October,
which 50 to 60 colleges attend. Seventy-eight percent of English
High students are reported to attend a two-year or four-year college
Undocumented U.S. Soldiers
t East Boston High School,
4 percent expressed interest in joining the military on their exit
survey in 2004, one of the highest percentages in the Boston
public school system (the other one being John D. O’Bryant
School at 5 percent). That number reached 6 percent in 2000 and
was at its lowest in 2002, but has been growing back steadily since.
The JROTC at East Boston High used to be an elective class but officers
convinced the Administration to allow JROTC to count for credit
as the physical education requirement. Only 50 percent of the students
at East Boston High are Latino/as, but JROTC is mostly comprised
of Spanish-speaking students.
For Paez, JROTC has been the pinnacle of his experience with the
military. In Colombia he remembered seeing soldiers in his town
since he was four or five years old. “They were all over town
and would stand in the corners making rounds. I used to love looking
at them, their uniforms, and everything else. I would talk to them
and I still have a bullet one of them gave me,” said Paez.
As he got older, Adrian Paez and some school friends began visiting
the soldiers’ base camp where they were allowed to help disarm
and clean guns. When he was nine he was recruited in a training
program for children, sponsored by the Colombian national police.
The kids were trained to march and keep order at public events.
They wore blue uniforms, white caps, and combat boots. “They
even gave us anti-riot batons,” said Paez.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least one of every four irregular
combatants in Colombia is under 18. Of these, several thousand are
under the age of 15. When he arrived in the United States, Paez’s
environment changed drastically, far from the day-to-day militarized
society in Colombia, until he entered high school. “In seventh
and eight grades here everything was normal, but when I got to ninth
in high school, I found them again. It was there that I found the
Every summer for three years Paez has been to Camp Freedom, a camp
for students aged 14 to 18 at the Massachusetts Military Reservation
(MMR), a 22,000-acre base used for military training at Cape Cod.
Over 550 JROTC students from the Northeast attend Camp Freedom each
summer. Students pay a $30 dollar fee to register. The Army covers
transportation, meals, and accommodations expenses. Run by the JROTC
from East Boston High, the Camp Freedom experience includes drills
and ceremony, marching in formation, and competition among groups
in several physical training activities, such as rappelling, aquatics,
and rock climbing. Everyone gets graded on motivation.
As a senior cadet, Paez instructs the younger students on how to
march with pellet rifles. Although not yet a citizen, he has helped
teach a citizenship class as the Company Commander for his JROTC
Ironically, Paez’s legal status is what protects him from being
sent to war. He is currently looking into taking courses at a local
community college. Many of Paez’s JROTC friends ended up in
the Middle East. “Three [JROTC members] from about two years
ago went to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Sgt. Burnett, JROTC
instructor at East Boston High, “And I have one currently in
Kuwait, waiting to go into Iraq within the next couple of months.
And I have one who was in the JROTC, quit the JROTC, and joined
the service and he’s currently in Baghdad.”
Jarrin-Thomas is a freelance journalist who has published articles
Dollars & Sense,
Commondreams. org, Boston Independent