Uncle Sam Fishin' for Seniors

You're a senior in high school and Uncle Sam wants you reeaaally bad. What do you do?

Last week, the AP reported that soldiers are deserting their posts at their highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters up 80 percent since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"We're asking a lot of soldiers these days," is how director of plans and resources for Army personnel Roy Wallace explains it. "They're humans. They have all sorts of issues back home and other places like that. So, I'm sure it has to do with the stress of being a soldier."

There were 4,698 desertions this fiscal year and 3,301 last year. And, as the AP notes, "the increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands, with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders - including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey - have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat," which is why efforts are underway to bring 80,000 new recruits to the Army and Marine Corps.

Are you familiar with the Future Soldier Training Program? It's a military program aimed at recruiting high school seniors that undoubtedly has chrome rim salesmen, retail industry giants, cell phone companies and other receptacles for youth consumerism smiling.

"The Army designed the program for high school seniors. It's brand new. Promotional materials haven't been printed yet, but recruiters are talking it up at schools," the Dallas Morning News reports.

"The program pays students $1,000 for each month between signing the commitment contract and leaving for basic training after completing high school. The Army pays an additional $1,000 for high school graduation."

For one North Texas senior who enlisted in late October and plans to leave for basic training in late June, "he'll rack up $10,000 in bonus money for his nine months in the program, including the $1,000 graduation award."

It's a new move in an old recruiting game, in which recruiters play the class card, taking advantage of low-income families. Even though hyper-"patriots" don't like to admit it, most people join the military for economic reasons. According to a 2000 study by the Defense Manpower Data Center, 33 percent of recruits join to fund their education, while another third join for the job training experience.

You're a senior in high school and Uncle Sam wants you reeaaally bad. What do you do?

People have to make their own choices but before enlisting, would-be soldiers should, at the very least, read veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges' book What Every Person Should Know About War.

Covering everything from "enlistment" to "weapons and wounds," on down to "imprisonment, torture, and rape," as well as chapters on "dying" and "after the war," Hedges aims to confront the "hard truth about war;" not produce a work of anti-war propaganda.

"The book is a manual on war. There is no rhetoric. There are very few adjectives. It is a book based on research," Hedges writes - a claim he lives up to on each of the book's 119 pages.

"War, I believe, is an inevitable part of the human condition. I doubt it will ever be eradicated. But it should never be waged lightly or without good cause. The cost is high. Most of those killed, wounded, and left homeless in modern warfare are innocents, families, including children."

Whether you agree with Hedges view of "the human condition," wrestling with the questions posed, and answered, in the book are of invaluable practical benefit to anyone thinking about enlisting.

"Will I feel worse if I kill an enemy in an ambush?...Is it easier to bear killing an enemy you cannot see?....Is there a chance I will enjoy killing?" Future soldiers and their families would do well to face those kind of soul-searching questions.

You're a senior in high school and Uncle Sam wants you. What do you do?

Besides giving some real thought to the life-and-death issues covered in Hedges' book, you might also consider an interview retired Rear Admiral Gene LaRocque had with businessman Eugene Lang, chairman of the "I Have A Dream" Foundation.

LaRocque: "we've come to equate patriotism with militarism. If you're patriotic, you're assumed to be militaristic. If you're militaristic, you're assumed to be patriotic. Now we've measured our patriotism in the last several years against the backdrop of war....But the question we have to ask today is who are the patriots here at home...."

Lang: "I believe the educational well-being of Americans is the key to America's defense."

If America's best defense is an educated citizenry, how does it help to siphon off high school graduates to fight a war that can't be won on the battlefield?

Sean Gonsalves is an assistant news editor with the Cape Cod Times and a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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