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Eduardo Ochoa teaches social justice at Lincoln High School in Chollas View. Ochoa is also a coordinator for the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, or AVID, as everyone calls it, a high school elective designed to help midlevel students prepare for college and meet college eligibility requirements.

During this school year, six of Ochoa’s students dropped the program in favor of the military science program, the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC. According to Ochoa, military science instructors told the students that their class was easier and would also help students get into college.

Across town, at Mission Bay High School in Pacific Beach, 11th-grader Anay Barajas was placed into the newly offered Marines JROTC class at the beginning of the school year. She says she had no idea what the class was about, but when she saw it involved drills and marching, she wanted out and into the AVID and Spanish classes that she had picked as her electives. “I went to my counselor,” Barajas says, “and she told me, ‘Yeah, we’ll call you in,’ but they never did. So after two weeks I had to get my dad to call, and they finally changed me.”

It wasn’t the end of Barajas’s experience with the military program, as was first reported in online publication Voice of San Diego. “So the second term, we got all-new classes and everything, and they put me in the class again! I was, like, ‘Wow, I already got out of the class once. Why would they put me in it again?’ ”

Ochoa and Barajas weren’t the only ones in San Diego’s public high schools who found the military science program disturbing this year. Other students and teachers have objected to the course and its policies. The complaints have led community activist groups like Encinitas-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, known as Project YANO, to form the Education Not Arms Coalition. According to Rick Jahnkow, a founder of both the coalition and Project YANO, support has grown, and over 150 people showed up at a San Diego Unified School District board meeting in early May to show their opposition to the military science course.

JROTC has been a staple in San Diego Unified’s high schools for almost 90 years. San Diego High, the city’s first high school, adopted the program in 1919. Of the district’s 16 high schools, only 3 — La Jolla, Clairemont, and University City — do not offer the program as part of their curriculum.

The class claims to teach students leadership skills, self-reliance, and self-discipline, as well as how to set life goals. Master Chief Rik Alberto is a military science instructor at Mar Vista High, an Imperial Beach school in the Sweetwater Union High School District. “The great thing about this program, sir, is that it teaches a kid to act like an adult after high school,” Alberto says. “We teach basic leadership concepts, public speaking. We build self-confidence. We teach job-interview techniques, good manners, and self-conduct, pretty much which knife and fork to use. We basically prepare them for the adult world, sir.”

The Education Not Arms Coalition has rallied behind three points in its opposition to the military science program.

The coalition’s first concern is marksmanship training on public school grounds. Each JROTC program represents a branch of the armed forces. In San Diego Unified schools, 7 of the 13 programs are Army, 3 are Navy, 2 are Air Force, and 1 is Marines. Every program has a rifle range except for the two Air Force programs, at Scripps Ranch High and Mira Mesa High (at Crawford the range is not in use). The rifle ranges typically are in an old classroom where students, supervised by instructors, practice shooting .17-caliber air rifles at targets. Jack Brandais of the district’s Media Relations Department explains, “This is a controlled, very specific type of program. At one time it was a CIF [California Interscholastic Federation] sport. It’s still an NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] sport and an Olympic sport, so it’s taught under very tight control, in tight conditions, in a specific area of the campuses.”

Lincoln High School’s Ochoa says his students questioned the mixed message the school was sending. “We teach our kids to think critically,” Ochoa says, “so as soon as my kids became conscious about a gun range on campus and other students being trained to shoot weapons, they started asking questions about the zero-tolerance policy. Since day one at this school, they’ve been told about there being no exception to having any weapons on campus, so they started making petitions and getting signatures from other students and staff members.”

Cristabel A., who graduated from San Diego High last year, was a member of the school’s Army JROTC marksmanship team. In 2007, the team won the California Junior Olympics. She recalls the experience of being on a shooting team. “For one thing, it is the one sport that needs the most teamwork,” she says. “It takes a team to win. It helps with concentration, good health, and dedication. It teaches a group of people how to be a team. Through that, the team becomes family, like my team did.”

The second concern of the Education Not Arms Coalition is that students are being placed in JROTC who have not chosen it as an elective. Once they are enrolled, it is difficult for them to transfer out. The allegations come despite a districtwide policy requiring that parents provide written consent to their child’s enrollment in the class. The instructors pass out the consent forms at the beginning of the term. However, the program’s own manager, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Janus, has reported missing forms at some schools.

Barajas, the Mission Bay High student, is aware of several classmates who had a difficult time transferring out of the class. “During the few weeks that I was in the class, some kids signed up because they thought it was going to be an easy class,” she says, “and there were others who were just placed in it without them knowing what it was. Another boy said that he was in there even though he didn’t want to be, so he told the instructor, and the instructor just told him that he was going to have to figure it out.”

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Comments

Peace_Is_Patriotic June 4, 2008 @ 8:24 p.m.

Thank you, Fred Williams, for your great comments. You should contact Project YANO and volunteer to speak in high school classrooms. Students need to hear your perspective.

Paula, teacher Education Not Arms Coalition

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a_girl_in_oceanside June 4, 2008 @ 3:01 p.m.

Minorities should embrace JROTC. Afterall, it's this country's great Military that allows the freedom that so many flock here to find.

Maybe they should start protesting wrestling next-- since it trains students in the art of grappling and submission.

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Fred Williams June 4, 2008 @ 3:23 p.m.

Hi Girl in Oceanside,

I served in the military, completing two cruises with squadrons at Miramar. I was Sailor of the Month for my squadron and recommended for the academy by my commanding officer.

Since that time I've lived and worked not only here, but in Europe and Asia, interacting with people from around the world and learning a few languages along the way.

So I can completely disagree with you with total confidence.

Our military is NOT what makes us great. Quite the contrary. The military is a necessary evil in an unjust world. Our founding fathers didn't even want a standing military, prefering to only call up soldiers as the need arose.

The world admires us (or used to admire us) for our freedom, our creativity, our ability to advance from poverty to wealth.

The world admires our music, our films, our open spaces and natural places. Only a few isolated nuts are gung ho about our advanced weaponry.

The military doesn't allow freedom. In fact, when you sign that contract you sign away a number of constitutional rights for the duration. And if the military chooses, they can unilaterally extend that contract as long as they like. It's like indentured servitude, the close-cousin to slavery.

Recruiters lie. I know it. Everyone who's ever been in the military knows it. They take the gullible young and tell them whatever they want to hear. The truth is you sign your life away when you sign that contract.

The fact that minorities are over-represented in the military is because for many it's the only choice they have left. There is often no other path to getting out of the ghetto. So they believe the promises, only to find themselves chipping paint in the sun, all the offers of job training long forgotten.

I was one of the fortunate few who got real world training that served me well in later life. The overwhelming majority of my shipmates were taught skills relevant solely to the military. There isn't a lot of demand for bomb loaders in the civilian world, my friend.

The truth is that the schools have so abdicated their responsibilities to teach basic academic skills like research and writing that we are falling far behind as a nation. The proliferation of JROTC and the shanghaiing of students into the programs against their will is a bad sign.

I do support JROTC, but only as a conscious choice. Not as a place to warehouse students until they are graduated and left with few alternatives but enlistment.

Best,

Fred

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Fred Williams June 5, 2008 @ 7:42 a.m.

Thank you, Paula, for your kind words.

I do support JROTC, but only as a choice, not a default.

For me, enlisting turned out okay. It got me out of a trailer trash environment, and because I was careful to get my rating and training as part of the enlistment agreement (NEVER go in unrated!) I learned some valuable skills.

I found out when I attended college that the paltry sum I got each month (the stingy VEAP program, replaced by the much better GI Bill that I wasn't eligible for) was automatically deducted from any student aid. So I gave four years of my life for educational benefits I would have gotten without my enlistment. I hope this is no longer the case. I just recently finished paying off student loans. So the Navy did NOT pay for my education afterall. And taking classes at Miramar College while enlisted was NOT encouraged, but made very difficult by the squadron and frequent work up deployments.

Just because I was considered to be very responsible, I was put in charge of the ready room during the night check. This meant that when we finally got into port I was too tired during the day to enjoy it much. Yes, I traveled the world, but ended up falling asleep while sightseeing, and then laying awake all night.

I lost about 20 percent of my hearing in the Navy, sleeping under the Kitty Hawk's arresting gear, and then right between the Carl Vinson's forward catapults.

I found out that some fighter pilots are dumb as rocks. I think about half of my squadron's pilots were PE majors...football players who weren't good enough for the pros. It's more important to have a lot of muscle mass and withstand a lot of G's than to be smart. In fact, I was told that too much brains is a disadvantage in the cockpit, since second guessing is worse than quick reactions and instantaneous obedience to oral commands. (Former fighter pilots, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

So I'd probably have been just as well off working at McDonalds and going to community college as enlisting in the Navy.

But there were other reasons to enlist. I sincerely love this country and felt obligated to serve. The cold war was still on, and fighting against tyrany and oppression, on the side of freedom, was and is important to me.

Unfortunately, this country seems to have lost its mind in recent years. Now WE are torturing prisoners, and our leaders are taking away our freedoms. We've become a surveilance society. Instead of being admired, we are loathed around the world.

This is a tragedy that will haunt us for decades to come.

So joining the military now is probably not a good move. Instead, I urge young people to join a political campaign, help elect new leadership in this country, and fight for peace rather than Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater.

Best,

Fred

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a_girl_in_oceanside June 5, 2008 @ 2:27 p.m.

How did this turn into a debate about the philosphy of war and whether or not it's "right"? JROTC is not war, it is an elective and students CAN decide to take it or not. Also, who cares if they are trained to shoot an AIR gun?!? Wrestlers learn how to submit people on school grounds, too.

Besides all of that, this is a porrly written article with little to no substance. It's propoganda.

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soshimo June 5, 2008 @ 3:01 p.m.

Fred - never have I read such truer words. I also went the same path you did and just recently finished paying of over 100k of student loads and financial aid. I got the GI bill but the limitations of that particular "perk" make it all but unusable. What it boils down to is that it may pay for half of your books. There is still tuition, room and board, and the rest of the supplies you need (including the other half of the books).

I was an AT in the Navy. I worked IM on the ship but that doesn't mean I didn't have my share of encounters with pilots. The technicians favorite running joke while I was on the ship was that pilots misunderstood the meaning of the On/Off switch. We would joke that the pilots thought that Off was yet another Navy acronymn that meant On Full Force.

That's the level of intelligence that non-commmisioned personel, who probably had little to no college, attributed to the pilots who were all officers and as such, had at least 4 years of college. This, of course, doesn't count Warrant Officers who are usually mustangs anyway. Those guys are usually the most respected.

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Fred Williams June 5, 2008 @ 5:49 p.m.

Soshimo:

The officers who commanded the most respect from the enlisted were usually mustangs. In my squadron, there was one pilot who had previously been enlisted in the marines. He was great.

Unfortunately, mustangs also tended to be blocked from advancing beyond commander.

Oceanside Girl:

This article is not the first to tell how students are put into JROTC against their wishes. There was something similar in VOSD a few weeks back. So I don't think it is "propoganda".

I also fail to see any reference to the current war or philosophy in either the article or any of the comments. Could you please point them out?

If you served in the military, or attended JROTC, perhaps you could share your perspective. But I think we've pretty much dismissed your assertion that the military makes us great.

As to your comparison with wrestling, that's known as a straw-man argument, a logical fallacy that's best ignored.

I'll repeat, in case you missed it. I support JROTC and don't want it abolished. As an avid archer, I think shooting is a good thing to know how to do.

I simply oppose sending students into JROTC when they don't want to be there. I'm sure you'll agree that this was the main point of the article, and something that is counterproductive.

Best,

Fred

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mythusmage June 5, 2008 @ 11:07 p.m.

Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by clerical error and bureaucratic intransigence.

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soshimo June 6, 2008 @ 12:13 p.m.

Fred: Yes, unfortunately the military is probably the largest Good Ole' Boy network in the world and mustangs are usually not given the same opportunities as officers commisioned through the academy.

That being said, to A Girl: I really can't believe you made that statement, that minorities should look into JROTC because that's their only chance. That is probably the most ignorant thing I've read all day. Are you trying to say that your skin color or ethnic background dictates what you can learn and do? You do realize there is this institution called a University right? And at that University you can learn to be anything or do anything you want, therefore making you, in my eyes, the best you can be.

The military regulates you to a particular role, or billet, that they have a need for. They sometimes try to match your skillset but that's not always the case. If they have to fill a billet recruiters have been known to stretch the truth somewhat. So, that being said, in the military your worth is dictated by the needs of the miltary. I wouldn't call that personal growth.

Bootcamps are hard for a reason, or at least they used to be. The general idea is to stress you to the point of breaking and see how you handle it. We had more than one person flip out in the first week crying for their mommy - literally. If the military decides to just push through people in an assembly line fashion what is going to happen when the crap hits the fan, as it were? Bedlam, thats what.

Don't get me wrong, the military taught me valuable lessons. Some good, some bad, but they all worked to formulate a specific discipline and state of mind. Some people have that naturally though and are self-motivated. They don't need the military to teach them self-discipline and motivation. Therefore, I submit, the miltary is NOT for everyone.

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tomo_chan June 7, 2008 @ 8:39 p.m.

Me and my friends are part of the JROTC program at MMHS. After reading this article on the Reader we quickly rushed to the computer to create an account so we could post a comment. We were all really upset that this article was giving the entire JROTC program a bad face just because there have been some problems in some schools. JROTC is a great class that teaches kids leadership and trust. We learn how to work in groups. There is no 'I' in JROTC. We all either swim together or we sink together.

I'm not going to lie. The only reason I joined JROTC was because I didnt want to do PE. After a while, though, you begin to like the program. JROTC pretty much forces you to interact and eventually become friends with people you normally wouldnt even talk to. You learn to work for what you want because nothing is just handed to you in JROTC.

This might sound corny, but after a while JROTC stops being a class, and the poople in it just classmates. They become your family. That is why we were all really upset by that article. Not all JROTC programs are like the ones described on this article. We just hope people realize that. ^_^

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Fred Williams June 8, 2008 @ 12:55 p.m.

Hi Tomo,

I think all of us approve of earnest young people who desire to learn more about military careers by participating in JROTC.

Just as joining a sports team gives you a sense of place and purpose, so it is with JROTC...or the chess club, or swing-dance nights.

Extra-curricular activities can be good for your development into a productive and proud member of the community.

I think you'll agree that no one should be forced into JROTC, just as no one should be forced onto the chess team. When the JROTC instructors exagerate their subject's importance in gaining college admission, they need to be called-out on their deceptions. The military may be a good choice for some, but only those who go in with their eyes wide-open are likely to succeed.

Hopefully they are giving you the "straight skinny" on how the military works, and not just filling your head with "No 'I' in JROTC" sloganeering. You should be in JROTC out of real desire, not brainwashing about "be all you can be" "keep the faith" or "give a hundred ten percent" nonsense. You deserve better than that.

Best of luck to you and your colleagues. I hope it turns out well for you. But be careful of blind loyalty. It's what turns a democracy into a dictatorship. The truest American value is questioning authority, not mindlessly obeying it.

Best,

Fred

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mp Sept. 24, 2008 @ 6:10 p.m.

Dear Mr. Williams, Thank you for your wise outlook... we all know in our hearts that the military and the police are not really the aggessors that they are sometimes made out to be and have saved many a person in the course of doing their jobs... the problem of jrotc lives more with the greed and ambitions of the local (or national) administrators, that you have so wisely conseled against: blind obedience my father was rotc, and my grandfathers were in the military (navy) and i am proud, BUT I don't want my sons ages 20 and 24 to go to any of the current wars that have been enacted lately thought misunderatnding, greed and ambition of the local or national administrators: power corrupts... mp

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