By Raymond R. Beltrán
Reported Tuesday, the battles in Najaf have cost the lives of 70 U.S. troops this week. It was also reported that the Iraqi death toll is ten times that number. During the ever escalating occupation of Iraq, daily development newspaper reports exhibit the names, ages and hometowns of dead soldiers. Beside the names, which at times exhibit a variety of ethnicities, is the age factor, which more often than not seem to be between 19 and 25.
Not only is this not just a coincidence according to local activists, but it is said that this type of pattern is due to recruiting techniques used by armed service recruiters.
Rick Jahnkow and University of California, San Diego Professor Jorge Mariscal, members of Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities), have been collecting data to provide high school students with alternative information, they say, to combat the influx of military recruiting propaganda targeted to young, and the majority of, minority teenagers who are about to graduate.
“The country can’t come to better itself if it doesn’t think critically,” says YANO’s Project Coordinator Rick Jahnkow. “That means that young people in the country have to be taught to think critically. Ask questions, we encourage that.”
Among the many grievances YANO has with military recruiting is the “money for college” myth. It is no myth that the media being directed toward civilians paints a picture of free college money, but YANO members raise questions of what it takes to actually get it.
What is known as the Montgomery G.I. Bill offers recruits thousands of dollars in college money, but YANO divulges that in the first twelve months of service, beginning on a recruit’s reporting date, the recruit’s pay is docked $100 a month, which is then transferred to an education fund. In the event that a recruit decides not to go to college, the money remains non-refundable and the recruit doesn’t see a dime of it. Project YANO makes claims that the military ultimately benefits from the “contribution” and that these types of details should be divulged to possible recruits off the bat.
Data collected from Project YANO indicates that in the Marine Corps “Latinos are 14% of the enlisted ranks. [but] they are only 5.3% of the officers.” Also, the Pentagon figures, according to YANO, show that out of the population of “Hispanics” in the armed forces, only 5.1% were college graduates, and when taking into consideration that becoming an officer demands a college degree, the majority of Latinos will seldom see the benefits promised in the beginning.
U.S. Air Force Recruiter and Senior Airman Jaime Luevanos, 23, contests that in the event that a recruit begins their education, only after a three year training period, a recruit can receive up to $38,000 for school, an increase of $19,000 since he joined in 1999.
Having been a National City recruiter for four months, Luevanos admits two things about his position, it is a business of marketing and schools are a main target. He makes the point that “the Air Force is not better [than other jobs], I just allow people to contrast other opportunities.”
Mariscal and Jahnkow also state that much of the job training being advertised is not useful in the civilian world, a point that Luevanos argues. Although, the knowledge he’s acquired, he says, pertains mostly to construction, welding metal, masonry and architectural work, like reading blueprints.
According to Luevanos, the perks of the military certainly outweigh other options when considering medical benefits and college money, but when asked if the higher possibility of death brings the balance back to the options, he says, “That’s our mission and everybody should be aware of that, the risk factor of securing your country is always there, but we don’t really focus on that.” He states that if the question arises, recruiters will address it.
Even though Project YANO’s data would brand recruiters as opportunists for targeting low income communities with the promise of money, they agree with screenwriter and poet Jimmy Santiago Baca (A Place To Stand, Bound By Honor: Blood In, Blood Out) when they say a majority of teenagers enlist in the military service to prove something.
“I don’t think if Latinos in the military weren’t dying so quickly, if it wasn’t a way to legitimize your patriotism, if it wasn’t to ensure your manhood, it would be okay,” says Santiago Baca.
Santiago Baca, whose work reflects a troubled youth, never joined the military, but admits that all the ideals of the youth today are influenced by “those at the top, the administration.” He says he learned how to recruit other at-risk youth in prison, and or, on the streets as a product of the Regan and Nixon eras in order to commit crimes. The intimidation, opportunism and loyalty factor, he says, play a big role in the way the U.S. government influences the youth of America with slogans such as “Army of One.”
“I just got an email from a kid on a [military] boat,” said Santiago Baca on an over the phone interview earlier this week. “He said he just read my book A Place To Stand, and he’s getting angry wondering why he’s pointing guns toward the people in Iraq. We have to begin to voice our opinions.”
As problems of soldiers’ disagreement may arise, it is well-known that there is little room for free thinking once the oath is made. Disobeying military orders, in the event that they conflict with one’s beliefs, can possibly lead to repercussions as severe as imprisonment.
With the U.S. President Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, schools that participate receive financial aid in the event that those schools provide recruiters with personal contact information of soon-to-be grads. Not only that though, the Exit Exam test scores are susceptible to recruiting data as well.
Project YANO makes two things clear to all interested recruits, the DEP (Delayed Entry Program) doesn’t finalize your commitment to the military, something that Luevanos says as well; and two, if parents don’t want their children’s academic/contact information being dispersed to military recruiters, there are forms to fill out making the information confidential.
Senior Airman Jaime Luevanos, during his time in the military, has earned a degree at Western Oklahoma State College in Business Information Systems and doesn’t regret enlisting at a time when his family was suffering financial difficulties, but statistics show that he is one of the very few Latinos that has succeeded.
“There’s a lot of ways you can show your gratitude [for your country] without joining the military,” says Mariscal. “We don’t tell people not to join the military, we ask them to ask questions . We’re telling these youth to become useful citizens, productive citizens without killing.”