The Pros and Cons of Military Recruitment in High Schools
Does military recruitment really help every student succeed?
April 29, 2022
If you have been to school for the past few weeks, you have probably noticed the military recruitment tables propped up just outside the cafeteria doors. Passed in 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act renewed requirements for public high schools to give military recruiters the same access to students as job or college recruiters. Armed with free snacks and merchandise, many recruiters have held popular activities like pushup and wall sit contests. However, many students and parents are protesting their presence on school campuses across the country.
Since 1973, the U.S. military has been an all-volunteer force of recruits dedicated to serving our country, deterring and combatting threats that endanger us and our allies. However, the military needs over 150,000 new recruits to maintain its strength each year.
Military recruiters should be allowed in high schools because they serve to benefit both our national security and students. For one, military service opens many practical educational and career paths for students. These careers encompass a diverse range of fields like agriculture, tourism, marketing, public safety and much more.
After high school, students are all too often coerced to go down the singular path of higher education. A whopping 65% of college students now graduate with debt. However, many students do not realize that there are other options. The military offers hundreds of employment positions based on your skills and interests far beyond going to war or fighting. In fact, in 2019, only around 10% of military members saw combat. Recruits can choose to enlist for two-, three- or six-years. Although many may feel reluctant to enlist, recruiters like Staff Sergeant Krystal Currin help educate students about possible future careers.
“I’m here to provide information to students willing to join the military [and] see what options they have career-wise,” Currin said. “We can do other things than just go overseas and fight. I work in the IT field where I’m fixing satellites, computers and phones.”
Additionally, people with military experience are highly respected in society for their service. Most people who enlist come from families with generations of military experience. Military recruiters can help these students achieve their goals, such as senior Dylan Smith. Smith will begin his basic Army training in August.
“Joining the military has always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. My sister’s been in the Air Force for six or seven years. She proved that it’s obtainable to join the military and make a career out of it,” Smith said.
In addition, recruiters can increase feelings of patriotism in students. This can help students develop their sense of identity and belonging as they strive to help people who are suffering worldwide and make our country a better place. The military plays a huge role in disaster relief and humanitarian aid, treating over 400,000 patients in the Pacific and Indian Oceans alone. For adolescents who are unsure about their futures, joining the military can give them a positive purpose.
The military also is taking action to improve gender and racial equality within its ranks. The Department of Defense’s Diversity and Inclusion Board has promoted the representation of different ethnicities and religions, particularly in higher officer roles. Furthermore, in 2015, the military officially opened all occupations and specialties to women.
In addition, military careers offer many benefits and can break down financial barriers that may stop students from pursuing college. The military’s tuition assistance program offers around $4,500 per year for those who qualify, depending on the branch. Other education benefits can be gained through the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill, although there are criteria for qualification. Enlisting in the military may help students continue to pursue higher education by reducing cost barriers. By shouldering some of the burden of student debt, which often leaves graduates unable to buy a home or start a family, the military sets its members up for an unfettered financial future.
The military also helps members pursue industry skills to help them transition back into successful civilian jobs after their service. The Army Credentialing Opportunities Online program, for example, helps enlistees get certified and licensed in many different career fields as they develop real job experience.
Also, many recruits can get bonuses upon enlistment, with the Army offering a combined bonus of up to $50,000. Smith reported that his sister was able to buy a car with her Air Force benefits. Additional benefits include the ability to work for up to 60 days of leave every two years, career counseling, housing assistance and healthcare through Tricare or Veteran’s Affairs (VA) care.
“The VA health care system should be the fundamental care system for society. It provides necessary medical care to what veterans need,” West parent and VA physician Yafei Huang said.
As the nation’s largest integrated health care system, the VA covers and provides substantial services, including surgery, mental health, dental services and more.
Thus, if jobs and colleges are allowed to recruit high school students, the military should be able to present itself as a beneficial alternative. The military seeks to protect and serve all of us living in the U.S., and recruiters help educate us about this important force.
These recruiters are not forcing anyone to consider enlistment. In fact, they are present to provide information to students interested in the military. Through friendly competitions, recruiters also promote fun physical activity and distribute awards to students like chips and water bottles. Many of these recruiters are taught proper doctrines and procedures for recruitment that help ensure ethical practices.
Although the myth that military recruiters specifically target underprivileged students is often perpetuated, in reality, more recruits come from middle-income families. Primarily, the military seeks to recruit youth with the potential to succeed in service, with about two-thirds of recruits in the top half of math and verbal aptitude in America. Recruiters have high standards for choosing who will serve in our military.
Recruiters offer a realistic future option for high school students with many financial and health benefits. By holding contests and engaging with interested students, recruiters can introduce students to a new world of career options.
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.