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Seeking options to military recruiting

by repost Monday, Apr. 25, 2005 at 12:44 PM

A local peace vigil activist made the local paper.

Seeking options to military recruiting

Man seeks nonmilitary recruiting options

By Tracy Garcia , Staff Writer

WHITTIER -- The way Orlando Terrazas sees it, deciding to join the military is as important as choosing which college to attend. So when his son told him he was considering signing up, it caused major discord at home.

Terrazas' son, who is in the Whittier High School marching band, said he got the idea after a military recruiter came to his class and gave a pitch about joining the military band.

That was enough for Terrazas, who has launched a campaign to get equal exposure for nonmilitary options for high school students.

Specifically, Terrazas wants to put up his homemade posters citing the drawbacks of a military career, alongside military recruitment posters on campus.

"What I'm concerned with is that the kids are getting all the information on the options in the military from recruiters but none of the ramifications of this decision,' said Terrazas, who belongs to the Whittier Peace and Justice Coalition, an antiwar group opposed to the war in Iraq.

The text of Terrazas posters, titled "Do You Know Enough to Enlist?,' is taken from a brochure published by the American Friends Service Committee. They detail the drawbacks of military careers, give information about alternatives to military service and tips on how to talk to recruiters.

However, after high school officials denied his request last month, Terrazas contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has taken up the general issue of military recruiters' access to high school students, particularly at low-income and minority schools.

ACLU officials last month sent a letter to the Whittier Union High School District on Terrazas' behalf, urging officials to allow him to place his posters on campus, based on "relevant law.'

"Mr. Terrazas has sought only the same access to school property that military recruiters already have, and his posters are not otherwise objectionable,' ACLU staff attorney Ranjana Natarajah wrote in a March 29 letter.

He cited a federal appellate court ruling that the First Amendment requires equal access for pro-military messages and those with opposing viewpoints.

"We urge the school district to allow Mr. Terrazas to place his posters in the high school,' Natarajah concluded.

District officials said they received the ACLU letter the first week of April. Last week, officials contacted Terrazas and asked him to bring in a copy of his poster for review, which he did.

Now, officials are awaiting a legal opinion on the issue from the California School Boards Association (CSBA) before district trustees decide how to proceed, said Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson.

At center of the issue is the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which compels high schools to "give the same access to military recruiters as we do to college recruiters,' she said.

College and university recruiting posters on high school campuses already advertise an option to military enlistment, she added.

"The issue right now has to do with posters. Because we encourage our students to attend colleges and universities, we traditionally have had posters and pennants posted throughout our campuses,' Thorstenson said.

She said officials are "eager to come to a resolution on this issue as soon as we receive legal guidance from CSBA.'

Terrazas said a more direct message is needed to counterbalance often aggressive recruiting tactics.

"You get the sense sometimes that these (recruiters) are like car salesmen,' he said. "And in these times, especially with this war happening, it could be your life you're deciding and that should be based on all the facts and ramifications.'

Greg Becker, public affairs officer for the Los Angeles Army Recruiting Battalion and a former high school recruiter, said his high school recruiters "don't use strong-arm tactics by any means.'

"We do actively go out and produce leads, talk to individuals, attempt to get an appointment with them to show them the Army's story,' he said. "And a lot of things are dependent on whether the individual tells us that yes, they're interested.'

Terrazas' posters could have "some impact' on recruiting efforts, Becker said, but added, "We're not worried.'

"It's one of those things that we're always up against,' he said. "That's why the military is here, to ensure people do have their rights, their freedom of speech, and that's why this country is great.

"Even though it's used against us or negatively toward us, that's what we ensure that everyone still has that right,' Becker added.

Terrazas says he is satisfied that school district officials so far have been eager to listen to his side.

"I just hope my hope here is to get these posters out to all of the schools,' Terrazas said. "Going into the military is just like going to college. It's a big life decision to make.'

-- Tracy Garcia can be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3051, or by e-mail at tracy.garcia@sgvn.com .

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