When word got around a week before last week’s UCSC job fair that military recruiters were pulling out, students organizers who have kept the campus essentially recruitment free for the last two years quickly claimed it as another victory. It was past students protests, they asserted, that had scared off the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
For many young people who enlist in the military out of high school or soon afterward, one of the major attractions of signing up with Uncle Sam is the promise that the GI Bill will pay their future education bills.
But enlistees are finding that the reality often doesn’t live up to the recruitment spiel. Just as rising college costs have outstripped family budgets, they’ve also eroded the buying power of the government program that once covered most, if not all, of a veteran’s college expenses.
At the age of 20, being a mother of a 3- and 5-year-old was not easy. Being a single mom on welfare living in a cockroach-infested apartment was not living. I thought I needed to learn discipline, so I walked into the army recruitment office. I spent my 21st birthday in boot camp on a five-mile road march. Many a mom has gone through boot camp. I was no exception.
Today I work towards building a network of women, many of them mothers, who have served in the U.S. military. We seek ways to tell the truth and speak for peace. This Mothers’ Day is a time to remember the mothers serving in the military whose stories you’re not likely to hear.
The day of her 17-year-old son Aaron’s passing out parade in Catterick last summer is a bitter-sweet memory for Karen Lincoln. As he marched past with his regiment, 2nd Battalion The Rifles, looking every inch the professional soldier, she cheered and wept, overcome with maternal pride. But it was also then she learned her youngest son was about to be sent to Iraq.
On April 2 – eight months after the passing out parade and just five months after his 18th birthday – he became one of the youngest soldiers to die in a conflict that has claimed 148 British lives. Of those, 14 have been teenagers.
“They shouldn’t be over there on the front line at that age,” Mrs Lincoln, 43, said. “It’s bad enough for hardened soldiers, but Aaron was just a bairn. He never had enough training in the first place, not to kill people.”
The reportedly overstretched U.S. military in Iraq, with troops serving unprecedented third and fourth tours, has provoked debate about military preparedness. At the same time, public controversy over the 14-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy is reemerging as increasing numbers of service members disclose sexual orientations in conflict with DADT. According the Department of Defense, 11,000 troops were discharged because of the military’s ban on openly gay service members. The importance of the scientific basis for DADT deserves attention relative to military personnel effectiveness and performance. Meanwhile, the military’s granting of “moral waivers” to applicants with criminal records has spurred some critics to say that capable soldiers are being needlessly sacrificed while recruits with drug abuse, criminal backgrounds, or insufficient education are being admitted.
In November 2006, distinguished social scientists authored an Amicus Brief filed jointly with the American Sociological Association (ASA) with the First Circuit Court of Appeals. There is no scientific evidence supporting the exclusion of openly gay or lesbian soldiers in the military in terms of military performance, according to the brief. Research on the nature of military unit cohesion fails to show detriments in performance. Of prime importance, empirical work shows, is identification with task.
While military recruitment in March of 2007 remained solid, a recent Newsweek poll indicates that 63 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly. In addition, the U.S. Army’s tour extensions to 15 months are taking an emotional toll on families and troops. The military prides itself on structured and disciplined lifestyle. However, as the demand for troop surges heightens, as more and more soldiers are “coming out,” and as families deal with the pressures of longer tours, the military finds itself approaching a critical social-cultural crossroad.