In late February, President Donald Trump proposed a $54 billion increase in defense and security spending, meaning an increase in military jobs. In Santa Barbara County, one group, Truth in Recruitment, presents regional high school students with the realities these jobs entail. Coordinator Kate Connell and intern Ari Cohen visit high schools to educate prospective applicants of what it means to join the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines.
“Our activism is directed to both students and families, to provide both with accurate information about what military recruitment really means,” Connell said. “All jobs have their risks, but a career in military is a really different choice. You can’t give 30 days’ notice; you can get thrown in jail if you don’t show up to work. You lose a lot of your civil rights,” and you could be asked to kill. “There’s kind of a sheen of advertising with the recruiting that glosses over the reality.”
The U.S. Army is looking to spend $300 million toward recruiting efforts, seeking 6,000 soldiers over the next eight months, Connell said. Truth in Recruitment has visited high school career fairs with information pamphlets, and at Santa Barbara High School, they erected temporary cemetery displays with tombstones representing 18- to 19-year-olds killed in action. What’s more, and most significantly, they’ve worked to limit how military recruiters visit area schools.
In 2014, Truth in Recruitment helped draft a formal policy change around recruitment within the Santa Barbara Unified School District. The new rules allowed equal access for those offering other post-secondary opportunities, ensured protection of student confidentiality and parent/guardian rights, and changed recruiter guidelines. In a departure from previous years, where there was no limit to recruitment visits, all military organizations are now limited to visiting schools twice a year with a maximum of three recruiters per visit.
Truth in Recruitment’s goal is not to demonize the military but to inform prospective recruits of the other options at their disposal. “Near Vandenberg, I’ve heard the word ‘only’ a lot, as in this is their only option, but it’s not,” Connell said, adding that there are numerous college options in North County, plus many different organizations serving low-income families for whom career prospects may seem limited.