The recruiters she interviews seem surprisingly frank about their methods and the possibility of dishonesty as they try to meet their quotas.
In Albuquerque’s high schools, students are more likely to sign up for military service than join the student senate. The armed forces are as popular as any school sport and, on many campuses, military recruiters and the JROTC are a more prominent presence than college or career scouts.
Since the beginning of the Iraq war, a group of Albuquerque-based activists has rallied for “balanced” representation of post-secondary opportunities in New Mexico’s public schools. The military, they say, is selling students on the service with sugarcoated stories and deceptive sweet talk.
Statistics indicate the sales pitch has been a success. Since 2005, military recruitment in New Mexico is up by 23 percent, reports the National Priorities Project. Conversely, college enrollment has stagnated. According to the 2005-2006 Report on the Condition of Higher Education, published by the New Mexico Department of Higher Education, “Enrollment at New Mexico’s public institutions of higher education is relatively flat … [and] will remain flat.”
Still, Sgt. Stephen Standifird, public affairs representative for Recruiting Albuquerque, denies any dishonesty in communication with students. “I don’t think there are a lot of blatant lies told to kids,” he says, though he acknowledges that “a recruiter has to gear their spiel to a particular kid.” Standifird says there is competition among the various military academies and that, occasionally, one will slander another to win a recruit. Otherwise, he says, recruiters are straightforward.
A year ago, the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice partnered with the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) to form Another Side, a campaign to lobby for the availability of “balanced” information about military service on APS campuses. Another Side contends that military recruiters are given preferential access to students over other groups, specifically those that advocate for peace. The group itself says it has had difficulty gaining access to the schools. By law, a school must allow military recruiters on its campus if it receives federal funds.
Casandra Stewart, now a youth intern with SWOP, graduated from West Mesa High School in 2003. Stewart recalls military recruiters calling her “at least once a week,” she says. “They would say that I needed to contact them. They were very manipulative, very knifing. I felt really targeted.” Stewart surmises that most students join the military for the promise of financial security. But, she says, “They need to know that alternatives exist.” While in school, Stewart says, she didn’t see any college or career recruiters, but felt the military was “always in [her] ear.”