EAST WENATCHEE - The "counter recruiters" are on a mission; their fight is over the military's access to students at school.
"Is it the mission of schools to provide for the national defense? That's the question," said Marion Ward, president of Washington Truth in Recruiting.
The Seattle-area non-profit held its second workshop this year in East Wenatchee, trying to warn parents about a little-known requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The federal law mandates schools to release student contact information - addresses, cell and home phone numbers - upon the request of military recruiters. Schools that refuse risk losing federal funding.
Schools must also honor opt-out requests from students and parents who want their names left off the list.
"To me, this is just as important as the abortion issue or teaching evolution; it's a core moral issue," said Todd Boyle, a Kirkland father and WATIR member. "The schools' job is to provide my student an education, not to introduce them to outside agencies, especially military recruiters."
The group told seven parents, activists and educators at the workshop Saturday about some tactics military recruiters use statewide: Taking students off campus to treat them for lunch, dinner or paintball; setting up rock-climbing walls at schools or local parks; becoming involved in after-school sports to form relationships with children; or taking students out of class to a military-themed trailer parked outside the school.
Local military recruiters say they carry out their duty with integrity and respect, and they include families as much as possible.
"We don't want parents to believe we're stealing their kids away without telling them," said Sgt. 1st Class Alejandro Fierro, the Army's head recruiter in Chelan and Douglas counties. "It's important to us to invite the parents and see what they believe."
The Navy, Marines, Air Force Army and state National Guard have recruiters based in the Wenatchee Valley. The branches operate separately from each other.
No military recruiters attended the meeting Saturday; they were interviewed earlier that week.
"They have the right to assemble," Fierro said Thursday. "That's why we're in this uniform, to give people that right. I'm all for it."
The active-duty Army has the largest recruiting force, with three officers covering schools from Chelan to Leavenworth.
The Army will typically recruit three students a year from larger schools, such as Eastmont and Wenatchee, and one from smaller high schools.
"The young people we recruit, when 9/11 happened they were 11 and 12," Fierro said. "All they know is a country at war."
Recruiters typically visit schools about once a month, where they stand around and wait for students to approach them, Fierro said. Recruiters also visit the mall and other places kids hang out.
They'll also cold-call students at home, and if they're not interested recruiters won't call again.
"There's no need to embellish. Everything can be checked in our policies or the Web site," Fierro said. "We tell them up front, there's a 60- to 70-percent chance you're going to Iraq."
At Wenatchee and Eastmont high schools, each military branch is allowed to set up a table in the commons area once a month, on separate days if they choose. Recruiters also attend events such as open house, career fairs and Veteran's Day.
Wenatchee High School will notify parents of opting out of the military's directory in every monthly Panther Paws newsletter this year, guidance counselor Mary Parsley said Friday.
About 20 Wenatchee students already submitted opt-out letters this school year, Parsley said.
Wenatchee parent Mike Bangs said his son opted out as a freshmen and hasn't received a recruiter phone call since.
"My son is a sophomore and high school I've talked to him for years and his friends," Bangs said at the workshop on Saturday. He said he told his son: "Don't just sign up without telling me you've studied history and understand the people who have the authority to put you in harm's way, and also allow you the ability to kill others. Understand their reasons. Would you support them if you really knew?"
Laura Jaecks, a Wenatchee School Board member and parent, said she respected WATIR's views but her experience was different.
"On the positive side of military recruiters, my son was very focused on being a Marine," Jaecks said. "Through his experience of having exposure to the different recruiters, what he found was the Marines were not really in alignment with what his values are and what he wanted to do."
Her son is an airman first class in the Air Force Special Forces, Pararescue unit.
At Eastmont, the opt-out is announced over the daily bulletin, Principal Mark Marney said Thursday. About 12 students opted out this year.
"We've never had complaints," Marney said. "We don't put them in classroom and we don't interrupt school day for them. They come during lunch hours when kids have freedom to partake or walk away."