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IL Group Seeks 'Unarmed' Alternatives to Military Service

February 2, 2009

Chicago, IL - There are plenty of ways to serve the country without having to pick up a gun. That's the view of a coalition trying to curb on-campus military recruiting in the Chicago area, and offer alternatives for community service.

A year ago, rules were passed to limit military recruitment in Chicago schools. Today, people opposed to the Iraq war say those rules are not being uniformly enforced, and that recruiters are still targeting students of color and from lower-income backgrounds, backed by a multi-billion-dollar recruitment budget.

Darlene Gramigna is program director of the "Truth in Recruitment" project of the American Friends Service Committee of Illinois; she says a military enlistment contract contains terms some kids don't fully understand, but may feel they aren't in a position to refuse.

"You know, I think they're trying to find people who feel like they don't have too many other opportunities, and so military service looks better than going to college or some other things that they think they might not be able to afford."

Military recruiters contend that their work is no different from that of college representatives and other prospective employers who visit schools, and that they deserve the same access to students. At a weekend rally, however, some military veterans, students and their families disagreed. A coalition, the "Workers Rights Board," wants the government to create a national community service program, so students can gain job experience and earn money for college, without having to become soldiers.

Denise Ferrusquia is a senior at Kelly High School, where plaques commemorate former students who have died in the military. She points out that Cook County is one of the five most active recruitment areas in the nation.

"We see many of our friends leaving to the Army, the Navy, the Marines. We hear they've died or they've been injured, or the military has, like, cheated them out of something. These contracts that they sign, them coming into our schools and not telling us the truth about it, that deceives us."

In the last few years, the Defense Department has had a hard time meeting its military recruitment goals, in Illinois and elsewhere, but recruiters say that the worse the economy gets, the more people will consider enlisting, for the steady paycheck and benefits.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - IL