Saturday, January 29, 2005

No Cannon Fodder Left Behind 

Chuck Nevius of the S.F. Chronicle has a son who's about to graduate from high school. When the young man began receiving telemarketing calls from U.S. Army recruiters, Nevius got curious: how exactly did they get his kid's home telephone number? It turns out the school gave it to them. And if you have teenagers in public school, chances are they'll be calling you too:

Although many parents are just beginning to realize it, an obscure section of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires that all schools receiving federal funds (virtually all public schools) provide the phone numbers and addresses of high school students to military recruiters.

Can you keep yourself off the list? Yes, but only if you submit, in writing, a request to the school to "opt out'' of the recruitment. Otherwise, it is assumed you are willing to take a cold call from a recruiter.

And don't bother trying to fight the premise. Both the Santa Cruz and San Francisco school districts thought they'd come up with a compromise, which was: Let those who are interested in the military have a chance to volunteer for information.

Both districts suggested an "opt in'' policy under which interested students would ask to be contacted. No one else would be called.

Not acceptable. Federal officials made it emphatically clear to both districts that the "opt in'' policy could put them in jeopardy of having their funds "yanked,'' in the words of one official.

In the end, both districts caved in to the pressure, although San Francisco did make a symbolic change. Under its plan, all students are given the option to choose, but those who do not state a preference are put in the "opt in'' group. Last year, 52 percent of students said no, they did not want to be contacted, 6 percent said yes, and 42 percent did not respond.

Be warned, kids: the Army loves you today, but once you outlive your usefulness the honeymoon will be over. It's safe to say recruiters will not be handing out reprints of Mark Benjamin's recent Salon article (courtesy of our distinguished colleague Al Hill at Ramblings from My Mind). Injured soldiers have traditionally received free meals and a modest food allowance, which often goes toward helping their cash-strapped families pay for groceries. But in a time of tight budgets, Walter Reed Hospital has decided to get tough with these freeloading double-dippers:

The last thing a wounded soldier needs to worry about is where the next meal is coming from. But for hundreds of Walter Reed patients, that's a real concern. Starting this month, the Army has started making some wounded soldiers pay for the food they eat at the hospital.

Paying out of pocket for hospital meals can impose a serious financial burden, costing hundreds of dollars every month. That can be a lot of money to a military family. But perhaps worse, the meal charge feels like an ungrateful slap in the face to some soldiers. "I think it sucks," said a soldier from West Virginia who broke his neck in Iraq after falling off a roof. "I think that people should be able to eat. They get us over there, get us wounded and shot up and then tell us: Fend for yourself. You are all heroes, but here you go."
Walter Reed claims that the new policy only applies to outpatients. But that category includes hundreds of seriously wounded soldiers who are on "medical hold" -- technically outpatients, but living on hospital grounds (or warehoused in nearby hotels if beds are lacking):
Some soldiers in medical hold are waiting to get processed out of the Army because their wounds are so serious that they will never return to duty. But processing at Walter Reed can take over a year, much to the frustration of the soldiers who would prefer to get outpatient treatment near their homes and families . . . .

[T]he outpatient soldiers forced to buy meals at Walter Reed say they could spend around $15 a day if they eat three square meals at the dining hall -- about $3 for breakfast and around $6 each for lunch and dinner. That adds up to $450 a month, $183 more than soldiers' food allowance from the military . . . . The soldiers at Walter Reed point out that that they don't have the option of eating at home to save money because they are stuck at the hospital . . . .

The soldiers interviewed for this story asked for anonymity because they feared getting into trouble with their chain of command for speaking out. Many soldiers from Walter Reed attended the Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball last week, attended by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and others. Soldiers told Salon they were lectured on the bus on the way to the ball that they would face consequences if any untoward comments about the military appeared in the press.
Now there's a recruiting tool: join up now, and maybe someday you'll get to party with the President. Zemblan patriot J.M. forwards a letter from Rebecca Lawson, of West Babylon, NY, who wrote MSNBC about her son, an army reservist recently back from Iraq, who was ordered to attend a presidential ball. Not that they wanted to honor him; they just needed a few good men to serve as stage props for the camera crews:
Around midnight on Tuesday, my son returned home, looking tired from the drive. The next morning, he told me he didn’t have a good time because they basically stood around and watched the president say a few words. He said there was no food provided for them, so they ate after the event at some fast-food restaurant. They spend all this money for this celebration and can't feed my son? He stayed at a local military base with the rest of the group, but they made him pay for the room.

Apparently, there was a mix-up, or they were short a room.

I don't care what the problem was, he was told to go, this was not an option, orders were cut for this excursion! I am disgusted and horrified that he had to even show his wallet for this event.

In addition to serving as a medic in the 310 MP Batallion, my son is a full-time student and works part-time to fill in the gaps the military doesn't. He takes his responsibility as a soldier very seriously.

I am angered at the way he has been treated. People need to know how some heroes are being treated by their own government.
Reservist Lawson? Report to the Commander's office immediately.

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