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NAVY RECRUITERS TALK TO YOUNG CHILDREN AT LOCAL LIBRARY

by Rick Panna Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 10:29 AM

"'How could I join the U.S. Navy,' asked the young Latino man who appeared to be 18 to 22 years of age. 'I can give you a business card,' replied Rojas. 'Give us a call Monday, and we can just go from there.'"

July 1, 2005: There was an early fireworks display at the Highland Park library when Navy recruiters spoke to young children and faced blunt questions by anti-war activists.

Several days prior to the event, bright, salmon-colored flyers had been posted ubiquitously in the library. "Celebrate Independence Day with the U.S. Navy," it read. "The Navy's coming to the library to share stories and answer your questions! See exciting scenes from the video The Big Aircraft Carrier. A program for kids of all ages!" A related display was set up near the check-out

counter featuring children's books about military vehicles.

The announcement generated concern among people in the community who oppose the current

Iraq occupation. They feared the event would be unbiased in favor of the military and might set a

bad precedent for Los Angeles libraries. In fact, that same week, Lynda Brewer of Every Mother

is a Working Mother reported seeing leaflets about the U.S. Marines at a Baldwin Hills library.

"It is inappropriate for them to put on a pro-military fantasy show when real youth are dying and

families are going through hell," commented Arlene Inouye of the Coalition Against Militarism

in Our Schools (CAMS). ". . . [T]he minimal would be to have a balanced perspective by having

others present their views, such as veterans who speak of peace."

ACTIVISTS COMPLAINED TO THE LIBRARY

On the Saturday preceding the event, Inouye visited Highland Park's Head Librarian Tom

Johnson. She expressed her concerns to him, and he told her that the presentation would not

involve recruiting.

The next day, four local anti-war activists visited the event's organizer, Children's Librarian John

Hunter, to expressed their disapproval. Hunter said that he felt justified in going forward with the

program because "the military is a valid career option," "we wanted a program that related to

Independence Day," "we need more programing for boys," "the community includes people who

are pro-military and have family members serving in the military," and he considered the subject

matter to be "apolitical." Nevertheless, he agreed to report the group's concerns to his

superiors and gave everyone his card.

News of the pending event spread quickly and widely on the internet, attracting the attention of

such groups as CAMS, Global Women's Strike, and various anti-war vigils throughout Southern

California. Many people reported that they called the library to discourage the guest speakers

from appearing. Nevertheless, the program went forward.

THE EVENT COMMENCED

At four o'clock on Friday July 1st, a policeman was standing outside the library meeting room.

He warmly welcomed parties that had children, but some adults who came without children

reported feeling intimidated(1).

The audience in attendance consisted of about 30 children whose ages ranged from infants to

eight-to-nine-year-old. Most were Latino, and a few were Asians. Also present were parents; a

young man who appeared to be between 18 and 22; and nine Angelinos who opposed the

presentation. Sitting off to one side of the room were two uniformed men.

John Hunter welcomed everyone and described his inspiration for the program. "Down in San

Diego, there's a giant aircraft carrier called the Midway," he said. "I grew up in Southern

California and didn't even know it's there. . . . It's a museum, and it's open to the public. It was

one of the coolest things that I had ever seen. So that was the idea for this program."

Then, he opened up a children's book about military ships. "Navy ships have been with us for

almost our entire [history] as a country," he explained. "I know that because there's a book in

our library called The Great Ships, illustrated by Patrick O'Brien. One of the most famous ships

in our history is called the Constitution, and it's almost as old as our country; it's from 1797.

There was a war a long time ago called the War of 1812, and it was between us and Great

Britain. We were a puny, brand-new country, and Britain was the most powerful navy in the

world. Everybody predicted that we were going to lose very quickly. But instead, the

Constitution fought this other ship called the Guerriere, and we won. One of the reasons that we

won is that all of the English cannon balls bounced off of the other ship. Sometimes people call

the other ship, the Constitution, Old Iron Side. Have you ever heard of that before? No? I've

heard of that.

[He turns to a different page.] "Now, another ship that's in here is the Enterprise, and the

Enterprise is an aircraft carrier."

"Oh, boy," exclaimed a young child. "Oh boy, exactly," replied Hunter. "And the Enterprise is

one of the biggest ships [that's afloat], and one of the biggest reasons it's so big is because it has

on its decks... anybody know? It's part of the name 'aircraft carrier.' [A child gives an answer.]

Aircraft, exactly! Planes have to be able to land on it, and they have to be able to take off."

THE LIBRARIAN INTRODUCED THE RECRUITERS

"Who do you think works on these ships and lives on these ships," asked Hunter. Again, a child

answered his question. "Exactly, sailors," Hunter exclaimed. "So we were very lucky today. We

have two real live sailors who were both in the U.S. Navy. Do you want to introduce

yourselves?"

The floor was turned over to Junior Lira, a Latino man, who appeared to be in his early thirties.

He wore a brown shirt with military decorations on it. "Hi, how are you guys doing," he asked.

"My name is Junior Lira. I've been in the Navy for about 12 years now. I've actually never been

in an aircraft carrier, but I've been on board different types of ships. [Translates into

Spanish.]

". . . A little bit of background about myself: . . . I grew up in Montebello, which is a little bit east

of here. As soon as I graduated Schurr High School, I came into the Navy. I joined the Navy

because I wanted to be a little bit independent and because I wanted to travel. Different people do

it for different reasons. [Translates into Spanish.] So far I've enjoyed it. I've traveled to different

countries such as Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, [and] Puerto Rico. I've mostly stayed

in Central and South America. Now what was I doing there? The Navy [does] a job out in

the middle of the ocean, especially in the Cental American countries and off the coast of

Colombia and South America. It was an operation called 'anti-narcotics operation.' There [are] a

lot of ships from different countries in Central and South America that try to infiltrate drugs into

the United States. The Navy always has a minimum of three or four ships down in South

America trying to stop the drug flow to America. [Translates into Spanish.]

"Now I'm a recruiter out of the Eagle Rock office. What we do is talk to students, and if anybody

wants to apply to the Navy, basically, I provide the paperwork for them."

Then, a second Navy representative, wearing a white shirt with decorations, began to speak:

"How's it going everybody? My Name is Jorge Rojas. I was born in Los Angeles. I graduated

from Eagle Rock High School. I joined in 1998. I've been on the aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz

and the USS Paul Vincent. I did a cruise in the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom and

Operation Enduring Freedom. I've been there both times. I joined because I really wasn't doing

too good out here in Los Angeles, so I thought I'd pick a good career and go away from this area.

I've been a recruiter for two years. I appreciate you for inviting me."

John Hunter resumed: "One of the things I wanted to point out, especially for the little ones, is

how much work people actually have to do. You think, 'Maybe it's exciting; we're going to go

fly planes and everything.' But there's a lot of work that people do before they actually get to get

in planes."

"THE BIG AIRCRAFT CARRIER" (VIDEO)

The room's lights were turned off, and Hunter started up a video, The Big Aircraft Carrier. (Due

to time considerations, he only showed the film's second half, which ran for about 20 minutes.)

The narrator of the video was a young girl who sounded as if she was about eight years old. Set

aboard the USS Nimitz, the film discussed the responsibilities of the captain, how an aircraft

carrier steers, the involved design process, and the immense task of constructing such a ship. The

narrator then revealed that the USS Nimitz is nuclear-powered, and she described the process.

Whenever the movie segued to a new topic, a graphic of a Navy plane, piloted by a smiling child,

zipped across the screen.

"The average age on board the carrier is under 20," the narrator continued. "Many crew members

come to the Navy right out of high school. Others have advanced college degrees, but they all

have to learn new things."

The film then documented the preparations necessary for airplane missions and safety measures.

Lieutenant Janet Jacobson ("Jake") was introduced. "My father flew [planes] for the Navy," she

said. "When I was little I just remember watching them go by and thinking: 'God, that looks

really fun! I want to do that!'" She described flying an F-18 plane as "amazingly fun [laughs]."

The narrator then mentioned that the an aircraft carrier such as the USS Nimitz is crewed 24

hours a day, contains stores, and has its own barber shop, library, hospital, dental office, post

office, TV station, newspaper, mess, gyms, and churches services for various denominations.

At the film's conclusion, the aircraft carrier was shown docking in San Diego, California,

unloading, and then resupplying for a new trip out to sea.

QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION

Hunter invited audience members to ask questions of the Navy representatives-recruiters. Junior

Lira announced that "to motivate them," each questioner could have either a Navy frisbee,

a Navy pencil, or a Navy mousepad.



"How could I join the U.S. Navy," asked the young Latino man who appeared to be 18 to 22

years of age. "I can give you a business card," replied Rojas. "Give us a call Monday, and we can

just go from there."

Ensuing questions from young children and parents included, "What is it like working for the

U.S. Navy?" "How old do you have to be?" "How many years do you have to sign up for?" "Do

you have to pass a test?"

TUMULT

Then, the questions became more critical. The following is a partial transcript of what was said:

WOMAN: "I noticed the film showed a lot about how much fun it is to fly a Navy plane, but it

didn't say anything about what those planes actually do on their missions, how many women and

children are killed by those planes. Could you talk a little bit about that?"

VARIOUS AUDIENCE MEMBERS: "Yeah!"

LIRA: "Ma'am, we have women and children in here. Maybe after the thing we can talk about it

as [the] adults we are, but in front of the children please..."

WOMAN: "If it's not fit for children, then don't show a movie about those planes here."

ANOTHER WOMAN: "Why are you trying to brainwash these children?"

LIRA: "I'm not trying to brainwash... [His voice is drowned out by people yelling.]

MAN: "We have to have fairness here. If they want to come and do that, have someone else

come on and [present] the other side."

HUNTER: "If you're not going to be considerate, we're going to ask you to leave."

MAN: "You can do that, but it's a public library, and we pay taxes.

HUNTER: "Okay, I'm just asking you to be respectful about this."

MAN: "Well we are."

The policeman, who had been standing outside the room, has entered.

POLICEMAN: "Sir, sir, sir! He's going to answer your questions; we're just asking you to be

respectful. There's kids in here."

LIRA: "The Navy is just like the police department. You have police. We're pretty much the

same thing."

WOMAN #3: [Tells the guests in Spanish how thankful she is for their work. NOTE: An English

translation of her statement will be posted below under "comments" within a few days.]

LIRA: "Gracias."

[Applause.]

A boy asks Liro if he worked as a pilot. Liro answers that he refueled ships.

WOMAN #4: "Do you work as recruiters?

LIRA: "Yes, we are."

WOMAN #4: "Do you get paid to come here?"

LIRA: "Well, we get a salary base. To be honest with you, today was actually our day off, but I

had made an appointment with Mr. Hunter six months ago. We got four days off because of the

Fourth of July. Yes, we go to high schools; we're recruiters. Now as far as coming here? No,

technically we just do it because he asked us to and because we wanted to."

WOMAN #5: "I understand that a lot of the weapons that our aircraft carriers use depleted

uranium, which is highly radioactive. As people are recruited and serve in the Navy, are

they warned that they're exposed to this radioactivity? And when they become ill and the Navy

discharges them with minimal medical benefits, are we told that when we're joining up? Are we

told the risks we're exposed to?"

LIRA: "Well, there's only a few people that actually work with things like that... "

WOMAN #5: "Like the ones who are in the tanks who are all coming back with rectal cancer?"

LIRA: "Say again?"

WOMAN #5: "Yeah, a lot of our troops who are in tanks are coming back with cancer because of

the radiation on their tanks. So I'm curious if there's the same kind of exposure on the ships."

LIRA: "We don't work directly with that particular element, but we do work with other

hazardous materials like paint, cleaning solvents, and so forth."

Meanwhile, Hunter approaches a woman who has been recording the program.

HUNTER: "Ma'am, you're not allowed to record in here. You need to stop doing that now. This

is a public library; you're not allowed to record."

WOMAN #6: "Why not?"

Lira continues.

LIRA: "Have you ever heard of material safety data sheets and stuff like that? We have the same

thing, and everybody is informed about whatever it is we were exposed to. Now as far as

tanks, ma'am, I can't really answer that because I'm not in the army."

WOMAN #5: "But do you know how many of our Navy personnel have come home sick from

these toxins that they're exposed to?"

LIRA: "No, I do not."

WOMAN #5: "So when you're recruiting, you don't give them the statistics like, 'If you join up,

you've got a 50% chance of dying before you're 40'? You don't tell them that kind of stuff?"

LIRA: "Actually we tell them a lot of warnings, such as 'If you ever become a single parent in

the Navy, especially a father, the Navy can actually take your money away and give it to the

mother without your permission. So we give them a lot of warnings, and there is a lot of...."

WOMAN #5: "I've heard a lot of stories about that, where the father dies and the family is

evicted from the military housing like within 30 days."

LIRA: "You know what, ma'am? I'm not really sure. I've never seen it happen personally, but I'm

pretty sure things like that sometimes do happen."

MAN: "How many people got killed in the current war? Do you know the number of people who

have been murdered in this illegal war?"

LIRA: "If you had just [left] that for later, I would have been happy to answer that, sir."

MAN: "Yeah, well I would like you to cover that in your whole presentation next time, sir."

WOMAN #6: "There's a new film out called Yes Sir, No Sir. Have you heard about that?"

LIRA: "No, I have not."

WOMAN #6: "It's a documentary about the anti-war movement within the military."

Lira turns to this author.

LIRA: "Are you still recording that? I'll be more than happy to answer your questions, but if you

have on a recorder, that's an invasion of my privacy. Sir, would you turn that off?"

HUNTER: "Do you guys have our permission to record our programs?"

LIRA: "Sir, can you turn off...?"

The recorder goes off.

After finishing his discussion with woman #6, Lira smiles and tells the critical questioners that

he has and continues to do his work for them, whether or not they appreciate it. Some

audience members expressed a lack of appreciation.

AFTERMATH

After the guest speakers and most of the audience members left, some peace activists stayed

behind and talked to the librarians. One librarian claimed to have received more than one threat

over the phone regarding this program and said that he was called names like "Nazi

stormtrooper" and "white Aryan supremacist." Several of the anti-war people stated that they do

no not condone that kind of action and expressed regret that it occurred. Some of them later

speculated that the threats may have been made by an infiltrator.

Later, one of the activists said that if she knew who had threatened the librarians, she would have

turned them over to the authorities. According to her, these threats made the peace movement

look bad, "like we're all a bunch of nuts," she said. She noted that important peace movements in

history, such as the one in South Africa, succeeded without people making threats. Had the

librarians not been threatened, she suspected that the atmosphere would have been less tense

during the program, and perhaps there would even have been an intelligent discussion which

would have informed parents and children.

Despite the controversy that took place during the Navy's visit, various people were favorably

impressed. John Hunter claimed that afterward a mother approached him and thanked him

"profusely" for putting on the program.

Nina Zvaleko, who has raised her seven-year-old daughter to be critical of war, noticed that even

she was affected by the film. "Even a child who was raised to not view that as a viable career

option was very much affected by this," Zvaleko said. "[The presentation] was very favorable in

putting the Navy in a positive light. [My daughter said] to me during the program, 'If I'm ever

forced to join the Navy, I would want a job either working on the ship or working on the aircraft.'

. . . Now it may be that she's just a precocious child and she says, 'Okay, if I could put myself in

their shoes, what would I want to be doing?' But [the film] obviously didn't talk about the pros

and cons of being in the military, it talks about the pros of being in the military and being in the

Navy. Also, these recruiters had no idea of the statistics of Navy personnel who have been made

sick by the radiation of depleted uranium on our weapons. He had no idea."

Zvaleko then admitted that even she found aspects of the video fascinating, but wished that such

advanced technology would be used for more productive tasks like helping to undo damage in

Vietnam caused by the U.S.-Vietnamese conflict.

END

-----

(1)One activist reported that the police officer lightened up as the program proceeded. She

recalled that when she left the library, he told her to have a wonderful day.

(2)At one point, Susan Andres, the first person to ask a critical question in the q&a, spoke with

the policeman outside the meeting room. Andres: "He said, 'You can't do anything in the library

without permission.' He [said that] you can't tape anything without their permission. He

compared it to photographing paintings or manuscripts for profit. I wanted to see something in

writing."

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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Nonsense Librarian in Another Library System Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 11:06 AM
This from woman #5 Rick Panna Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 11:09 AM
Woman #3 translated into English Rick Panna Saturday, Jul. 09, 2005 at 10:46 AM
get these CDs to share Hex Sunday, Jul. 10, 2005 at 8:05 AM
The Military as a Career BorderRaven Monday, Jul. 11, 2005 at 10:21 AM
providing security, for the World? Sheepdog Monday, Jul. 11, 2005 at 12:44 PM
going camping in the Army and Marines Meyer London Wednesday, Jul. 13, 2005 at 5:55 AM

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