Recruiting visit causes protest

April 3, Sergeant Barry Leath arrived at Ames High School with the intention of informing students about the National Guard, the benefits of becoming a soldier, and finding potential recruits during both lunch periods. However, what he did not expect was a counter-recruitment movement held by members of Ames High Progressive Club, whose goal was to educate students about the “misleading statements the Guard presents when trying to recruit students.” During both lunches, members of Progressive Club handed out pamphlets titled “What they don’t tell you” to AHS students entering and leaving the cafeteria, alongside National Guard members handing out their own recruitment materials. Additionally, club members discussed their main concerns about the National Guard’s recruitment efforts with Leath. Students had come well-prepared to meet with Leath by researching facts and preparing questions about the realities of military life. Though questions varied during both lunch periods, most students’ main concerns lay within the realm of life after service, including topics such as monetary compensation, tuition benefits for college, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A topic that brought about much deliberation was a statistic stating that one-third of all homeless people are veterans, indicating difficulty in finding employment post-service. “People are homeless because they choose to be,” Leath said. “Anyone can get a job. The military provides opportunities for soldiers to be able to support themselves once they have served.” Students also asked questions about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the military’s apparent lack of resources in aiding soldiers who have been diagnosed with the disease. According to MSNBC, one out of every eight soldiers reports PTSD. Additionally, an investigation conducted by NPR stated that the army “ignores and punishes mental anguish.” “People go into the National Guard already having some sort of mental problem, it’s not because of what we do or how they can’t deal with it. Some people are even born with those mental problems,” Leath said. “Even if a soldier does have a mental problem, we don’t punish them for having one. That’s just stupid. Our superiors are going to make sure they get the help they need.” In addition, another main point of concern by students was the understated risk of death or injury overseas in areas such as the Middle East. “Obviously it’s a lot more dangerous to be in Iraq right now than in the United States,” senior Caitlin Harrington said. “That’s why we worry about our soldiers overseas and not about people living here everday.” Harrington is referring to Leath’s use of driving as a comparison to the dangers overseas. “People are at the same risk of dying everyday, it doesn’t matter whether you’re overseas,” Leath said. “Getting into a car, you have the same risk of crashing and facing harm as you do fighting for your country in Iraq.” Many students said they felt Leath’s argument was invalid. “He asked me how many people died on Iowa highways each year, and when I said I didn’t know, he told me I didn’t even have my facts straight,” senior Jacob Rosenberg said. “The point of my question was to ask him about the risk during deployment, not for him to condemn me for not having numbers memorized.” Though questions were asked, most members said they were disappointed with the face-to-face discussions which ensued with Leath. “He never really answered our questions,” sophomore Kenna Stenback said. “He would just throw out more questions at us in response to our own.” “It was interesting because he didn’t really have any answers,” junior Brian Jaynes added. “He was in a situation he didn’t want to be put into.” Leath also said he was not happy with Progressive Club’s actions. “This is my first time at this school, and I’m completely shocked,” Leath said. “I’ve never had students come up to me before and question what the military is trying to do.” He continued, “[Students] are selectively listening for numbers. [They] just don’t understand.” Progressive Club’s demonstration led to negative reactions from other students, who felt that members were disrespecting Leath and the National Guard’s commitment to serving its country. However, the organization has continued to maintain that its goal was only to educate the public with facts before students consider enlisting, and that it respects and honors all of our country’s men and women in uniform.