Greetings From Uncle Sam

A little-noticed provision – little-noticed because we were not yet at war in Iraq – in the 2002 No Child Left Behind law required schools to provide military recruiters with the names and addresses of their students.

Now we are at war and that, plus a strong economy, is causing the Army and Marines to have problems attracting sufficient recruits. The Army is 16 percent below this year’s target for active duty and 21 percent behind for the reserves, while the Marines are down 2 percent.

Thus military recruiters are aggressively taking advantage of their right to student lists, and, according to news accounts, the reactions of high schools vary widely. Some schools freely provide the lists and allow recruiters to wander the halls at will. Other schools insist on parental permission before providing a name and address and restrict recruiters to the guidance office. And some schools, often urged on by peace activists, actively advise parents to take advantage of the law’s allowance for an “opt out.”

Many of the more resistant schools might be motivated by legitimate concerns over privacy; and some of it might be an unfortunate animus toward the military. It’s true that with smaller, all-volunteer armed forces, the military is remote from most Americans’ daily life.

And, in fairness to the schools, recruiters can be relentless. In essence, recruiting is a sales job like any other, with the rewards going to the aggressive and persistent.

But the Pentagon is going to get this done one way or another. It has to. Internet rumors notwithstanding, there’s not going to be a draft. The military doesn’t want it and Congress won’t allow it. A bill in the House last year to reinstate the draft went down to a 402-2 defeat.

As an extra measure, the Pentagon is creating a database of all high-school students between 16 and 18 and all college students that will contain far more information than the addresses and phone numbers the schools are required to provide _ Social Security numbers, grade-point averages, study major, e-mail addresses, ethnicities. The job, it should be noted, was contracted to a direct-marketing firm.

America needs the military and the military needs recruits. Volunteer military service is a long and honorable tradition that goes back to the beginning of the country. The schools should treat military service as one option among many for their students.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)