America's Child Soldiers: JROTC and the Militarizing of America
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During ROTC’s exile from such institutions, however, it put down roots on college campuses in states that made no fuss about discrimination, while the Pentagon expanded its recruitment program in high schools. Almost half a century after Army JROTC was established, the Reserve Officers Training Corps Vitalization Act of 1964 opened such junior training to all branches of the military. What’s more, the number of JROTC units nationwide, previously capped at 1,200, climbed rapidly until 2001, when the very idea of imposing limits on the program disappeared.
The reason was clear enough. In 1973, the Nixon administration discarded the draft in favor of a standing professional “all-volunteer” army. But where were those professionals to be found? And how exactly were they to be persuaded to “volunteer”? Since World War II, ROTC programs at institutions of higher education had provided about 60% of commissioned officers. But an army needs foot soldiers.
Officially, the Pentagon claims that JROTC is not a recruiting program. Privately, it never considered it to be anything else. Army JROTC now describes itself as having “evolved from a source of enlisted recruits and officer candidates to a citizenship program devoted to the moral, physical, and educational uplift of American youth.” Yet former Defense Secretary William Cohen, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, named JROTC “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.”
With that unacknowledged mission in hand, the Pentagon pushed for a goal first advanced in 1991 by Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: the establishment of 3,500 JROTC units to “uplift” students in high schools nationwide. The plan was to expand into "educationally and economically deprived areas.” The shoddy schools of the inner cities, the rust belt, the deep South, and Texas became rich hunting grounds. By the start of 2013, the Army alone was recycling 4,000 retired officers to run its programs in 1,731 high schools. All together, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine JROTC units now flourish in 3,402 high schools nationwide -- 65% of them in the South -- with a total enrollment of 557,129 kids.
Getting With the Program
Here’s how the program works. The Department of Defense spends several hundred million dollars -- $365 million in 2013 -- to provide uniforms, Pentagon-approved textbooks, and equipment to JROTC, as well as part of the instructors’ salaries. Those instructors, assigned by the military (not the schools), are retired officers. They continue to collect federal retirement pay, even though the schools are required to cover their salaries at levels they would receive on active duty. The military then reimburses the school for about half of that hefty pay, but the school is still out a bundle.
Ten years ago, the American Friends Service Committee found that the true cost of JROTC programs to local school districts was “often much higher -- in some cases more than double -- the cost claimed by the Department of Defense.” In 2004, local school districts were shelling out “more than $222 million in personnel costs alone.”
Several principals who spoke to me about the program praised the Pentagon for subsidizing the school budget, but in this matter they evidently don’t grasp their own school finances. The fact is that public schools offering JROTC programs actually subsidize the Pentagon’s recruitment drive. In fact, a JROTC class costs schools (and taxpayers) significantly more than would a regular physical education or American history course -- for both of which it is often considered a suitable substitute.
Local schools have no control over the Pentagon’s prescribed JROTC curricula, which are inherently biased toward militarism. Many school systems simply adopt JROTC programs without so much as a peek at what the students will be taught. The American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, and other civic groups have compiled evidence that these classes are not only more costly than regular school courses, but also inferior in quality.