Along with visiting high schools, the military has been expanding its social media presence in an attempt to connect with Generation Z. But no matter how much recruiters make enlistment seem more like Fortnite than reality, joining the military is a grave commitment.  

For one, enlistment contracts are legally binding and difficult to nullify. You are signing away years of your life to the military, whether that be in reserves or active service. Recruits can face military court-martials if they do not obey orders. In addition, the military often reserves the right to reassign and relocate you without your consent. 

Teenagers can make impulsive and risky choices. When recruiters hold fun pushup contests and dish out prizes, they overshadow the grittier parts of enlistment. Predatory recruitment can convince uninformed students to give away their lives without realizing the weight of their decisions. 

So, before deciding to enlist, students must seriously consider the possibility of being sent into a war zone. Even if you have a technical or non-combat job, you are trained to fight, and there is always a small chance that you will be ordered to kill or die. 

Often, your enemies could be civilians and children just trying to survive. Although modern advancements in air warfare reduce U.S. casualties in war, defective intelligence and negligence have led to thousands of avoidable innocent deaths. In August 2021, while American officials initially reported that a drone strike in Kabul destroyed a car of ammunition, it had killed a family of 10. The lack of investigation and discipline stemming from these incidents suggests that the military deems these lives as acceptable collateral damage. Schools should not be promoting an organization that has had a hand in mass casualties worldwide, often for no justifiable reason

But even apart from war, there are many downsides of joining the military that recruiters neglect to mention. While you are on active duty or in reserves, you can be court-martialed for criticizing government officials like the President or Secretary of Defense. You lose your constitutional rights to free speech and political expression. 

Additionally, many personnel are subject to racism and extremism: Black and Hispanic service members are disproportionately court-martialed. Members of extremist and white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan are not barred from joining the military. 

Furthermore, a toxic culture of sexism permeates even to higher ranks of the military. Nearly one in four U.S. servicewomen report sexual assault. Infuriatingly, their assaulters often do not face consequences. 

Joining the military can also take a toll on one’s mental health. In 2014, a study found that depression rates are five times higher in service members than in civilians. The same study found that the rate of PTSD is 15 times higher. Service members put their physical health at risk for traumatic brain injuries and combat-related injuries.

All of these consequences of service can impact a veteran’s transition back into civilian life, sometimes leading to unemployment and poverty. On one night in January 2020, a disproportionate 37,252 Veterans were homeless.

The bottom line is, we should not be actively encouraging student enlistment. While it’s true that there are benefits that come with enlistment, there are other resources that students can use to support themselves after high school. For example, financial aid programs such as FAFSA can help disadvantaged students with their tuition. And perhaps, instead of pushing kids to join the military, the government could spend some of its $768 billion defense budget on funding higher education and teaching our youth.

Additionally, some recruiters lie or exaggerate about benefits. For example, recruiters may tell you that you can get $36,000 from the Montgomery GI Bill, but they fail to mention that you must pay $100 a month for the first 12 months of active duty to qualify. They also may promise you a choice career in the military, which is never guaranteed. At the end of the day, recruiters are salespeople, not counselors looking out for our best interests.

Though some of these lies may seem innocuous, recruiters have a history of misleading students. In 2006, army recruiters were recorded telling prospective enlistees that the Iraq War was over, even though new recruits would probably be deployed to Iraq. Many of these recruits never returned home. 

Dishonest practices are to be expected in a system that encourages recruiters to get as many students to enlist as possible. Each year, recruiters must meet personal quotas. As the number of enlistees nationwide continues to dwindle under the military’s recruitment goals, recruiters may grow more and more desperate to convince more students to enlist.

And on top of these pervasive lies they may tell, recruiters often target lower-income teens by using financial incentives like enlistment bonuses and scholarships to lure them towards enlistment when they feel they have no other options. 

The ESSA also requires schools to turn over the name, address and phone number of each student unless their parent opts out by submitting a written request to the school. This monumental breach of privacy allows recruiters to identify and prey on students who would be most vulnerable to the financial pressures of recruitment. 

Overall, the practice of recruiting in high schools is highly predatory. Recruiters can downplay the seriousness of enlistment while exaggerating military benefits. Our school is a place for learning and personal growth, not for the world’s largest military to entrap students into service.