Plan B Shouldn't Be the Military

Since the day my kids were born, my mantra has been, "Go to college." But next week marks not only my daughter's graduation from boot camp, but the Oct. 15 deadline for my son to opt out of the military recruitment directory at his school.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) makes school administrators responsible for delivering the personal information of high school students to the military for their recruitment efforts. While NCLB provides an "opt-out" alternative, it places the responsibility for opting out on students and parents. But many do not even know about the NCLB. In other cases, students who have opted-out have mistakenly had their information removed from honor roll and college recruiters lists.

For my mixed Mexican-American/African-American family, military service is the GED of career plans. The military is Plan B, when you haven't had enough success in high school to go directly to a four-year college. It is not that I do not believe in patriotic duty. Latinos in particular have a proven history of military service, with more Congressional Medals of Honor winners than any other minority. I teach my kids we all have a responsibility to serve the common good. But I also tell them that there are many ways to participate in public service.

When my daughter entered high school four years ago, the military option was toward the bottom of the list. She has always been a bright kid with decent grades. She demonstrated natural leadership skills in her business club, but was often recognized more for her good looks, which seemed to embarrass this shy girl. She chose to live with her father, who worked an afternoon shift, leaving her to an empty house after school and little motivation to get on the college track. She became a prime target for military recruiters, who offered her some sense of family and praised her leadership ability instead of her beauty.

As Harvard, Princeton and Yale slipped away and UCLA and USC became a pipe dream, I tried to steer her toward the Cal State system and community colleges. When my daughter showed little interest in any college, I pointed her toward community service, like the Peace Corps. But I was no match for military recruiters. They were calling three times a week, taking her to lunch, promising her independence and a way out of her small desert town, as well as a way to help her "poverty-ridden" single mother in East L.A., who still had two other kids to raise. They even gave her "scholarship" money, complete with a giant check presented at a luncheon as if she had won the lotto (to be cashed when she completed boot camp.)

When she finally surprised me by signing her paperwork to join the Army (her Mother's Day "gift" to me), I almost wished instead that she had come to tell me she was pregnant. She tried to console me by showing me her GI Bill benefits, which will give her money for college after she completes her five years of service. But I know of Veterans Administration statistics that show only 5 percent of military personnel receive the maximum education benefit.

I will continue to support my daughter, but I felt her intelligence, grace and compassion were better suited outside the military. Plan B is not something any mother wants for her child.

I hope the two boys I still have at home will choose a different path. But statistics show that because my high-school son goes to a predominately minority school, he is four times more likely to enroll in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) class than if he attended a predominately white school. And because his school is considered low-income, he is four times more likely to be offered a JRTOC class in the first place. JROTC classes are a powerful recruitment tool for the military.

According to the American Friends Service Committee, the JROTC has approximately 310,000 students enrolled in programs in 2,200 schools across the nation. Many schools are offering JROTC as an alternative to overcrowded PE classes that often enroll more than 70 students. Many schools have standards so low they look upon the military as the best a poor kid of color can do to get out of the hood. Often, they steer students toward the military instead of enrolling them in a college prep class -- playing God with our children's futures.

My daughter graduates boot camp next week, while my son will be opting out of giving his information to the military. He has already decided he is going to apply to the University of Maryland and UCLA. His English teacher (an attorney for 20 years before he became a teacher) has told him he would make a good lawyer. I think he would make an even better senator.

My daughter is headed to six months of training in Arizona after she graduates boot camp. Just a month after her 19th birthday, the Army can do with her what they please, including sending her to Iraq. In the meantime, what is a mother to do but worry and pray and for the future of her children?


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