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Should Military Recruiters Target Gang-Risk Latino Teens?

LatinaLista — The answer to the title of this post sounds like it should be a no-brainer but with the Army under pressure to meet its quota to help with the additional troops President Bush has decided is needed in Iraq, a second look must be given as to whether the Army, and possibly other branches of the military, are making promises to at-risk kids that either don’t live up to the hype or are just not the only available option.

In an article that chronicles the efforts of army recruiters in the Dallas, Texas area, some very common reasons for enlistment by young Latinos are revealed explaining why their numbers have more than doubled since 1993 when the perentage of black enlistees has taken a dive from 22 to 15 percent over the last six years.

The two most common reasons that have historically spurred the enlistment of young Latinos into the military are: job training and education.

A third reason among Latinos who are not citizens is citizenship. The article cites that in North Texas “where the population is around 35 percent Latino, nearly 20 percent of last year’s 4,100 Army recruits were Hispanic, many of them from immigrant families.”

…a good chunk of the Latinos who enlist are legal residents who get on a fast track to citizenship by joining the military. The local recruiting battalion didn’t have figures on the area’s number of immigrant soldiers, but (Dallas Army recruiter) Leal says that more than half of his recruits — he enlists one to two each month — come from immigrant families, and three-quarters of those are green card holders, not citizens.

For generations of Mexican-Americans, military service has been a way to assimilate and display patriotism, something Leal has noticed time and again. “The ones who do join are usually the best soldiers because they have something to prove,” he says. “They chose this country, so they don’t take it for granted like the ones who were born here.”

However, promises of a free education are dangled in front of every recruit (which should tell us all something – that these kids do understand the importance of an education.) But some who have big dreams of attending an Ivy League school get pulled back to reality all too fast.

Soldiers can count on at least $38,000 under the GI Bill, but additional funds — such as the “up to $70,000 for college” often advertised — depend on application and acceptance to various programs based on individual qualifications.

And if young recruits think they will be on easy street once they’re in fatigues, well…

In 2003, it was documented that there were a significant number of military families who were living in poverty and collecting food stamps.

Even promises that their pay will be increased if they are sent into the war zone isn’t complete truth if they get hurt over there and have to return home for medical care.

As was the case with one Army veteran who got wounded in Iraq. This soldier didn’t just have to worry about his health but keeping credit agencies away from him because the Army had downgraded his pay when he was recuperating in the hospital and left him with a debt of over $6,000.

The promise of an education is almost a moot point these days with more and more public and private universities offering free tuition to those whose families earn less than $25,000.

Job training is great if they can transfer those skills to civilian life, but last we checked there wasn’t a high demand for infantry skills or tank mechanics.

It’s often said among Latino families that Junior entered the military for discipline and direction.

The problem with that statement has always been that the same could be administered by any parent or school counselor or adult friend – if only the effort was taken to spend one-on-one time with that young person who just needed attention and guidance and was asking for it.

When nobody had the time or patience, the dotted line was an easy alternative.

The problem is this Administration has made it clear it will fight till the death, or until Congress and “we the people” put a stop to the senseless sacrifice of our young people, our future.

Until that happens, young Latinos will be sought after to fill the void that exist in the ranks of the military.

But it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. The alternatives are there; these young people just have to know they exist.

It would seem that nowadays, Latino kids are more at-risk for military recruitment than gang-joining.

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