September 18, 2003


Letting the Troops Through the School Door (Bob Keeler, September 15, 2003, Newsday)

For sharp-eyed parents eager to monitor everything that could hurt their kids in high school, here are two things to watch closely right now: In Iraq, young Americans are dying daily. In America, parents face a life-or-death decision about exposing their kids to military service. If parents don't act, quota-driven recruiters will soon be calling.

The recruitment situation is the result of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which promises better education - without adequate funding. As the bill evolved, a Republican member of Congress from Louisiana, David Vitter, fought to include this provision: If a school refuses to give Uncle Sam the addresses and phone numbers of its students, it can lose federal aid.
"We had heard through various sources that there were an alarming number of instances where high schools banned military recruiters from contact with their students," Vitter said. That vexed him. [...]

Ultimately, Vitter got his way, and the No Child Left Behind law contains Section 9528, which I call the No Child Left Alone provision.

To be sporting, Vitter left a loophole: If parents sign an "opt-out" form, saying they do not want their kids' names on the list, the school does not have to send the names to recruiters. But this form sometimes arrives home in a blizzard of paperwork or buried in a student handbook. If parents don't see it or neglect to sign it, they are deemed to have consented to the inclusion of their kids on the list. [...]

If someone wants to enlist out of patriotism, fine. But no one should join the military thinking it is a jobs program. It's a killing machine.

Set aside for the nonce Mr. Keeler's despicable description of his fellow citizens as mere cogs in a "killing machine". There's a far larger loophole, a much easier way to opt out of the federal recruiting requirement: schools can turn down the federal money. But if you take money the feds offer, you have to take the strings they attach. Pretty basic really.

Oh, and about the killing machine; check out what we now know to be Mr. Keeler's crocodile tears when he used the troops in a prior column, Lost in Iraq (and Washington): U.S. Troops (Bob Keeler, July 21, 2003, Newsday)

So it turns out that the Bush administration's real definition of "Support Our Troops" is this:

Send the troops to war, promise them a quick return, then keep them in the dark, with no idea of when they can see their families again, if they survive a mission for which they have no training and no appetite - and while they're away, pinch pennies rather than increase their benefits.

Americans on both sides of the Iraq invasion debate can agree: This administration must do better at preserving troop morale. As war began, the troops kept hearing from commanders that the way home was through Baghdad. Well, Baghdad fell - at least, the statue did - and they found themselves not at home, but stuck in Iraq, policing America's increasingly dangerous "victory."

It has been particularly tough on the 3rd Infantry Division, which led the charge into Baghdad. These soldiers have suffered from a dizzying series of contradictory statements: First, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the division would go home in August and September. Then Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, the division commander, said they'd be staying indefinitely. Then the U.S. Central Command said it was still committed to a September return. Also, Rumsfeld said this is not a guerrilla war, but Gen. John Abizaid, the new head of Central Command, said it is.

"It's obvious they can't believe anything they're told at this point," said Charles Sheehan-Miles, who served in the first Gulf War with a tank battalion now in Iraq. "At least in '91, we had a very clear objective: If we get there and live through it, then we can get on a plane and go home, and that's what we did."

Some certainty about coming home is crucial to morale. Even in the horror of Vietnam, troops knew they'd be coming home after 13 months - if they survived. But those in Iraq have no clue.

"These guys have done their share," said Marcus Corbin of the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank. "If they had an end point, you can put up with a whole lot, but if it's sort of indefinite, then it makes it much tougher." [...]

All this adds up to an administration that gives its troops, in the words of the Army Times headline, "Nothing but lip service." So the commander in chief should stop using the troops as stage props for his photo opportunities and start paying attention to the welfare of those he commands.

Talk about lip service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2003 3:32 PM

Note, too, that Keeler presumes children and their parents are helpless sheep who must be sheltered from military recruiters because they're incapable of evaluating the military career option, and likely to choose unwisely if left to their own devices.

Wonder how he feels about school choice?

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 18, 2003 5:32 PM

Troops in WWII didn't know when they'd be coming home, either, except for bomber crews.
They had a quota that they could fill, so high that it was common for them to die before reaching it. The novel "Catch-22" was based around it.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 19, 2003 5:44 AM