The Reality of Military Recruitment

The excessive military recruitment of underprivileged teenagers is exploitive and immoral.


Sophia Lehrbaum, Staff Writer

Lunch at my old public high school sometimes went like this: cliques of friends eating in their designated spots, music blasting from the plaza speakers, and young military members, dressed in full uniform, approaching students and making their case as to why they should join the military out of high school.

Military recruitment on high school campuses grew when President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act, saying that all public schools who receive federal funding must allow military recruitment officers full access to public school campuses to engage students during class, breaks, and extracurriculars. This strategy has been incredibly successful—according to “Truth in Recruitment,” over 90% of recruited military members sign up when they’re still in high school through the Delayed Entry Program. 

In my time at public high school, the officers never approached me or my predominantly white friend group. And this is no coincidence. The Department of Defense spends millions of dollars on a database called JAMRS, which collects information from public schools including students’ names, birthdays, home addresses, telephone numbers, and GPA’s—all released without formal consent to officers unless parents opt out of the program.

Recruitment officers look at your information and decide whether or not you’re a student who is unlikely to attend college after high school, or, in other words, whether or not you’re vulnerable to promises of free college or paths to citizenship. In turn, they target students who are typically poor, people of color, or immigrants—termed the “poverty draft.” Because college is largely unaffordable, recruiters actively prey on schools with poor socioeconomic status. In a 2017 poll conducted by the DOD, 49% of young people said that if they were to join the military, “one reason for doing so would be to pay for future education.” Additionally, the 2017 Population Representation in the Military Services report found that “nearly 20% of military members come from neighborhoods with median household incomes of $40,115 or less.” 

We put our most vulnerable children on our battlefields to serve and protect the privileged population’s freedom and our government’s private interests.

On top of all this, recruitment officers don’t disclose how military service disproportionately affects the mental health and physical well-being of its youngest soldiers. A study done of the US military by the National Center for Biotechnology Information “found the highest rates of all disorders, including alcohol abuse, anxiety syndromes, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among the youngest cohort, those aged 17 through 24 years.” They also found that the youngest group of veterans “experienced a 26% increase in suicides from 2005 to 2007” and that hospitalizations among military personnel in the 1990s “showed the highest rates among the youngest recruits.”

Additionally, “almost one third of first births to active duty females are to women younger than 21 years.” After putting their lives on the line for the promises of free education, these young women now have a child that they need to financially support. Do you think those women’s lives have been improved from their military service?

Recruiters target young and impressionable, at-risk teenagers with promises of a better and brighter future that too often go unfulfilled, considering that “at nearly a third of 20 two-year schools that enrolled at least 100 veterans receiving GI Bill benefits and who are eligible for degrees, none of them got one,” according to The Atlantic. Contributing to this drop-out rate is the lack of support for veteran students suffering from the traumas of war, who statistically have harder times falling asleep at night and keeping up with the stressful workloads of college, according to a study conducted at community colleges by investigators from the universities of Arkansas and California, Riverside.

This is nothing short of predation and military grooming. We put our most vulnerable children on our battlefields to serve and protect the privileged population’s freedom and our government’s private interests. And instead of making college affordable, or addressing the mental health crises among our veteran population, our government too often falls short. 

If that doesn’t disgust you, you aren’t paying attention.