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Navy desertions have more than doubled amid suicide concerns, as sailors feel trapped by contracts

The number of sailors who deserted the Navy more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, highlighting the lack of options contract-bound sailors face when they’re desperate to leave.

A uniform hat at a Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Md., in 2008.Chip Somodevilla /May 18, 2022 / Melissa Chan / NBC News - The number of sailors who deserted the Navy more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, while desertions in other military branches dropped or stayed flat, pointing to a potential Navy-wide mental health crisis amid a spate of recent suicides, according to experts and federal statistics obtained by NBC News.

Among a fleet of more than 342,000 active sailors, there were 157 new Navy deserters in 2021, compared with 63 in 2019 and 98 in 2020, Navy data shows. The total number of deserters who were still at large in 2021 grew to 166 from 119 in 2019. Most of them were 25 and younger.

“That’s staggering,” said Benjamin Gold, a defense attorney for U.S. service members.

In the wake of several suicides among sailors assigned to the warship the USS George Washington, the new desertion figures highlight the lack of options for sailors when they’re desperate to leave the military but are bound to multiyear contracts that many of them signed just out of high school.

Military law experts said the nearly unbreakable contracts — which can require up to six years of active duty — leave sailors with extreme alternatives: die by suicide or flee and face harsh consequences, including spending years behind bars as patriots-turned-pariahs.

“They feel trapped,” said Lenore Yarger, a resource counselor with the GI Rights Hotline, a nonprofit nongovernmental group that specializes in military discharges.

Young America's Dilemma: The Predatory Choice Between Student Loan Debt and Military Enlistment

Men who have signed up to join the U.S. Marines stand in line to do qualifying pull-ups at recruiting station November 16, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Robert NickelsbergMay 16, 2022 / Liz Walters / Common Dreams -This past January, student loan company Navient was made to cancel $1.7 billion in federal student debt in a federal settlement judged by Attorney General Maura Healey. The settlement, which also required Navient to distribute $95 million in restitution to approximately 350,000 federal loan borrowers, came after a long fight against the company's predatory lending practices, which promised to help students in need of tuition assistance, and instead steered them towards repayment plans that piled on unnecessary interest. Navient also participated in risky subprime lending without consideration for borrowers and their families, leaving hundreds of thousands of students in crippling debt that the company knew they would not be able to pay back. These shady practices have been going on for at least two decades with little government intervention. The settlement provided loan forgiveness for students who had borrowed between 2002 and 2010. During this time period, Navient, now privatized, was still known as Sallie Mae, an entity created by Congress to service federal loans. As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren put it: "Navient cheated students who borrowed money to pursue their dreams and allowed them to be crushed by avoidable debt, all while the U.S. Department of Education turned a blind eye."

Marginalized students pay the price of military recruitment efforts

With pandemic restrictions easing, military recruiters are returning to high school campuses while anti-recruitment efforts struggle

A Kaimuki High School student learns more about the Air Force Reserve from members of the 624th Regional Support Group during the school’s career fair at Kaimuki High School, Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 27, 2017. Eleven Airmen from the 624th Regional Support Group volunteered alongside the local recruiting station in support of the fair, which provided career guidance to more than 800 Hawaii students. Located on Oahu and Guam, and a component of the Air Force Reserve, the 624th Regional Support Group's mission is to deliver mission essential capability through combat readiness, quality management and peacetime deployments in the Pacific area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Theanne Herrmann)April 18th, 2022 / Roberto Camacho / Prism - The U.S. military utilizes a number of different recruitment methods to garner new enlistments, but their target audience has consistently remained the same: high schoolers, particularly young men from low-income and rural areas. Eighteen is the youngest age one can join the military without parental permission, but the armed forces still regularly market military propaganda in schools. Although the military does enjoy support within the public system, a grassroots movement of students, teachers, parents, and organizations has led efforts to reduce military recruitment presence and activities on high school campuses.

“We face an uphill battle not only because of the prominence of militarism in our society but [also] because there has been a lack of foresight by progressive people who aren’t thinking about what can happen 10 years down the line,” said Rick Jahnkow, former program coordinator for the nonprofit Project on Youth & Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO) and a current member of the organization’s board of trustees.

The U.S. military has been an all-volunteer service since the end of the draft and the Vietnam War in 1973, making aggressive recruitment efforts essential to maintaining its 1.3 million-member active-duty global military force. Military recruitment in public schools isn’t new, but the level of access the military has to students and their information has increased alarmingly over the past several decades. Notably, recruiters got a significant boost when then-President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act into law in 2002—under Section 9528 of the act, schools can lose their federal funding if they fail to allow military recruiters the same level of access to students and their private information as they do to other recruiters from community colleges and universities. 

Recruitment, counter-recruitment and critical military studies

Introduction

December 2016 / Matthew F. Rech / School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University - On 8 January 2002 in the US, George Bush Jr. signed into law an educational federal grant Act entitled ‘ No Child Left Behind ’ Though seemingly commendable at first glance, it being designed to improve academic attainment in disadvantaged state- funded schools (Zgonjanin 2006 ), a closer look at NCLBAs 670 pages revealed a provision that allowed military recruiters near unimpeded access to the personal information of enrolled students. On pain of forfeiture of federal funding, schools covered by the Act were required to release student names, addresses and telephone numbers to military recruiters. As Nava ( 2011 , 465) details, although

The provision gave parents the ability to ‘ opt-out ’ of releasing this information only if they first submit written notification to the school ... NCLBA ... does not provide any requirement, instruction, or mechanism to ensure that parents are aware of this.

The data-gathering proposition in the NCLBA, just as with the Pentagon ’ s Joint Advertising Marketing and Research database (Ferner 2006 ), is designed, at root, to streamline the solicitations of military recruiters. It focuses a military recruiting and retention budget, which reached $7.7 billion in 2008 (Vogel 2009 ), effectively according to gender, age, ethnicity and recreational interests, amongst other variables. Combined with the access granted to military recruiters in that of ‘ extra-curricular ’ junior reserve Officer Training Corps programmes, or the Armed Services Aptitude Battery test (a ‘ Careers ’ test offered by two thirds of all US schools) (Allison and Solnit 2007 ), it is clear that military recruiting is an important set of practices in what Harding and Kershner ( 2011 ) call a ‘ deeply embedded ’ culture of militarism in the US.

Though cultures of militarism differ markedly between places, their being a symptom of nationalisms, political, geographical and historical imaginaries, and a product of the state ’ s apparatus of persuasion, militarism in the UK is also bound to legislative efforts to promote a ‘ military ethos ’ in schools. In July 2012, for instance, shadow secretaries Stephen Twigg (education) and Jim Murphy (defence) wrote to the Telegraph to outline their vision for the future involvement of the British Armed Forces in schools (Twigg and Murphy 2012 ), opining that:

We are all incredibly proud of the work our Armed Forces do in keeping us safe at home and abroad. They are central to our national character, just as they are to our national security. The ethos and values of the Services can be significant not just on the battlefield but across our society.

Practically, Twigg and Murphy called for the widening of military Cadet schemes; new schools with service specialisms; the use of military advisors and reservists for physical education and other curricula; and a rebalancing of military involvement particularly as it is absent from the majority of state schools. The military might be best-placed to teach, they suggest, a ‘ service ethos ’ , a sense of ‘ responsibility and comradeship, and ‘ the value of hard work ’ and ‘ public service ’ .

Twigg and Murphy ’ s vision, has, since November 2012, variously become a reality with an expansion of the Cadets, a ‘ Troops to Teachers ’ programme, and Government support for fledgling military ‘ free-schools ’ and academies (Education.gov.uk 2014 ). Much like critics of NCLBA however, there are some who can ’ t help but see the connection between the Department for Education ’ s ‘ Ethos ’ programme and military recruitment. Indeed, as Sangster ( 2012 ) notes, along with the fact that the DfE does not provide an examination of what ‘ military ethos ’ actually means, or why schools are the best place to teach hierarchy, demand for obedience, or the value of the use of force, there are clear, and clearly troubling, links between the integration of military attitudes into the structure of national education policy and eventual enlistment (Armstrong 2007 ; Lutz and Bartlett 1995 ).

Ethnic Studies Take 2: The Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

Isidro Ortiz, PHD | Draft NOtices | COMD - The Covid-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on education and posed many unprecedented challenges to educators at all levels. As reported by Emma Dorn and her colleagues in “COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning,” during the 2020-21 academic year, “the impact of the pandemic on k-12 student learning was significant.” Moreover, “the pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest.” Students in high schools became more likely to drop out of school, and “high school seniors, especially those from lowincome families, are less likely to go on to post-secondary education.” At the same time, the Defense Department has announced a new STEM strategic plan that would further militarize the nation’s schools. The plan would focus on student populations regarded as “underserved and underrepresented in STEM,” including military children, racial minorities and female students.

While these developments do not bode well for anti-militarism struggles, all hope is not lost. They have been accompanied by the rise of a counterhegemonic movement that has catalyzed the development of a new curriculum, the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (LESMC), that has significant potential to develop two essentials for future action against militarism: critical agency and self-efficacy.

Critical agency among students has been defined as the recognition of one’s ability to act, together with purposeful action or activity. Critical agency involves questioning the taken-for-granted in the knowledge and discourses that students already possess, as well as in the secondary discourses that they are acquiring. Self-efficacy, according to the psychologist Albert Bandura, is an individuals’ belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.

 LESMC is a generative and transformational curriculum with the potential to promote critical agency and self-efficacy in students. Having noted the academic benefits of ethnic studies in the previous issue of Draft NOtices, here I provide a primer on this curriculum, drawing extensively on the work of its developers and advocates. In illuminating LESMC, I hope to mobilize support for it in California and help pave the way for its replication and implementation across the country.

Who developed the LESMC?

The LESMC is the product of the work of experts in ethnic studies and community activists who have been part of an ethnic studies movement in California. Some were founding members of the California Department of Education Ethnic Studies Curriculum Advisory Committee (ESMAC) and Curriculum Writers Committee, the committee tasked with the development of a model ethnic studies curriculum for the state of California. As they have noted in 2019, they “were hopeful that California would approve an ethnic studies curriculum.” The framework was a prerequisite to the adoption of ethnic studies as a graduation requirement in the state*. However, in the summer of 2019, the proposed curriculum came under attack from ideological forces on the Right. According to the founders of the LESMC,

“These forces decontextualized the curriculum, attacked individual ESMAC members and intimidated supporters in an all-out attempt to stop progress. The California Department of Education (CDE) bowed to the pressure and, from that point forward the ESMAC members were shut out of the process.”

Venezuelan journalist reflects on pivotal life moments deciding whether to join U.S. military

Feb. 18, 2022  | Ruxandra Guidi | True Jersey - It’s my third year at Nutley High, the only high school in this northern New Jersey town of fewer than 30,000 people. It’s also my third year living in the United States. Everything still feels new.

One day, my guidance counselor, a soft-spoken Irish-American man whose name I cannot remember, sends a letter to the apartment where my mom and I live. He is tall, like one of the oaks in the park towering over me. It’s time to talk about my future, he tells us.

A week later, we are sitting in his office, facing the school’s courtyard. It’s winter and the weathered greenery outside looks sad and scraggly.

“Your grades are pretty good,” he tells me, pointing out how my favorite subjects must be creative writing and French.

Indeed, I’d been thinking I’d like to become a writer who travels. Or maybe a traveler who writes. I don’t know. The possibilities are so new. But the school counselor isn’t listening. He talks over and past me.

“Have you considered the Army?” he asks, looking at my mom. “It’s a great option for many Hispanics. You’ll get your college paid for and they’ll help you get your citizenship.”

We try to hide our frustration and thank him, shaking his hand goodbye.

I grew up in Venezuela. A nation that welcomed so many exiles fleeing the U.S.-backed Southern Cone dictatorships in the ‘70s. A nation that was a model of democracy in the region for decades. So the idea of joining the U.S. army feels repugnant.

‘America’s Army’, the Pentagon’s Video Game, Shuts Down After 20 Years

For two decades, the U.S. Army used a video game to reach new recruits. It’s finally shutting it down.

 

Matthew Gault | Vice - America’s Army: Proving Grounds, a game used as a recruitment tool by the United States government, is shutting down its servers on May 5 after existing in various iterations for 20 years. After that date, the game will be delisted on Steam and removed from the PSN store. Offline matches and private servers will work, but the game will no longer track stats or provide online matches.

For 20 years, players have been able to download and play the Counter-Strike-esque game for free on PCs and consoles. It was a recruitment tool when no one else was using video games for recruitment, a free-to-play game well before that became common, and an attempt by the U.S. Army to reach a new generation of Americans.

“The free-to-play America’s Army PC Game represented the first large-scale use of game technology by the U.S. government as a platform for strategic communication and recruitment, and the first use of game technology in support of U.S. Army recruiting,” a forum post announcing the game’s shutdown said. “Three mainline titles and more than 20 million AA players later, the series’ original purpose continued. There have been over 30 million objectives completed, 180 million successful missions accomplished, 250 million teammates assisted, and many more in-game achievements attained in AA:PG alone.”

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