Army enlistment is healthy in Ventura County, according to Chief of Public Affairs Gregory Alan Becker of the Los Angeles Army Recruiting Center. Recruitment goals were met in 2005, and today’s numbers are stronger than they were this time last year. Among those recruits are a considerable number of high school seniors.

Marci Munding of Oxnard Union High School’s College and Career Center reports that there is a voluntarily open policy on campus regarding recruitment. “Quite often, [recruiters] are invited into classrooms to talk,” she says, adding, “Only by invitation of the teacher, of course, and never during testing periods.”

Munding, whose son is in the service in Iraq, describes her relationship with Army recruiters as “love-hate,” but adds, “I welcome them. I do believe there’s a place for many young people in the military.”

Even when the uniform isn’t present on-campus, area juniors and seniors can reasonably expect a call or a visit from a recruiting officer: the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, states, “each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act [sic] shall provide, on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher education, access to secondary school students names, addresses, and telephone listings” (SEC. 9528, Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruiting Information). The law includes an “opt out” clause, wherein a student or the parent of a student can request that such information is not released.

According to Michael Cervantes, president of the local chapter of the nonprofit Veterans for Peace, student information is sent to recruiters by a “default system”: information will be released unless a form is filed requesting the contrary.

The law also stipulates that military recruiters be given the same access to students that educational institutions and prospective employers are given, meaning that recruiting officers must be allowed to set up tables in the same areas as other parties during on-campus job fairs, and are allowed to approach students in the same areas of campus open to university or employer representatives.

Cervantes — who was drafted and served a year in Vietnam — has been working in what he refers to as “military alternatives,” educating students about opportunities beyond enlisting after graduation, and filling in what he perceives as gaps or omissions in recruiter-provided information.

“Omission of facts by the recruiter is probably a planned detail on their part,” he charges, citing the popular promise of military funding for college versus the low incidence of college completion among recruits (one study, he says, shows the rate of enlistees who complete military service and secure funding for four-year university degrees is a paltry 15 percent). In addition, Cervantes asserts, recruiting officers rarely, if ever, make mention of the mounting cases of post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning form Iraq, nor the controversial use of depleted uranium in weaponry, nor the extended tours of duty many recruits face.

That none of these issues seemed to be addressed at the secondary school-level bothered the local chapter of Veterans for Peace.

When he and his group were not allowed to give presentations about military alternatives to Oxnard Union High School students, the group went to the American Civil Liberties Union for help in convincing the district that Veterans for Peace had a right to be there. Cervantes states, “Military really is a political and governmental activity, and because it’s political, all sides need to be expressed … the school cannot disallow the other side of the story to be directly spoken to.”

Cervantes is quick to add that the high school now allows the groups’ ads in the school newspaper and its pamphlets in the career center, and classroom presentations are welcomed.

These hour-long seminars provide an introduction to the Veterans for Peace Group, an explanation of the students’ “opt-out” option, a 20-minute video entitled It’s Not Just a Job, It’s Eight Years of Your Life, a question-and-answer session, a discussion of service-related issues and students’ personal stories.

He adds that most students — even those who have already enlisted — seem ignorant of the fact that they can get out of the Delayed Entry Program, a popular enlistment option for high school seniors; Cervantes’s aim became to expand the options of those students who had already signed up for service.

“They have to decide to get out before basic training,” he points out. “Once they’re in, the military law has control over them and their future is decided by that.”