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Feb. 3, 2006

Parents, protesters clash with Army Cinema Van

by Varun Gulati, Page Editor
Sergeant First Class (SFC) Robert Goethals stood facing rows full of students, behind a poster of soldiers with assault weapons and in front of a woman openly accusing him of misusing student information for recruiting purposes.

After stopping by Gaithersburg and Magruder high schools earlier this week, the U.S. Army Cinema Van, a traveling multimedia theatre with army members such as Goethals, visited Blair yesterday, Feb. 2, attracting around 80 interested students, a group of protesters and criticism.

The van's main attraction was a movie screening area, with several benches for seating and a projector set up to show videos to its visitors. During 5A lunch, shortly after 11 a.m., Goethals showed students videos on "American history" and "roller-coaster physics." In between, he asked students to fill in forms with personal data such as their name, date of birth, age, address and phone number, as well as optional information, including e-mail, citizenship status, ethnic background and whether they wish to be contacted.
Ruth Cass protests military recruitment at Blair on Feb. 2 with several other individuals outside of the student parking lot. Diana Frey
Ruth Cass protests military recruitment at Blair on Feb. 2 with several other individuals outside of the student parking lot.

It was at this point that Blair parent Stacey Gurian-Sherman stood up and questioned the motives of gathering student information. Goethals, SFC Fox, a van employee and two other personnel assured her that the information was for "accountability," survey purposes and, upon the student's request, recruiting. Goethals told Gurian-Sherman that the van staffers themselves do not do recruit and stated firmly that she was "acting hostile in my truck." Gurian-Sherman pointed out that, as a taxpayer, the truck was hers too. Goethals made an announcement to the students in the van: "I am not going to call you, recruit you, anything."

In a phone interview later, Gurian-Sherman said that Goethals was initially defensive. "I think he's used to being somewhat of a bully," she said.

Around 12:30 p.m., about eight protesters arrived at Blair, according to one of the van staffers. WTOP, NBC4 and Univision reporters arrived shortly thereafter. The protesters held flags, signs and posters, chanted "Recruiters Lie, Soldiers Die" and rang cowbells at the University Boulevard sidewalk adjacent to Blair. A police officer was stationed nearby.

"Passive recruiting in its own messed up way"

Earlier this week, Madeleine Fletcher, a member of the Committee on Recruitment Issues at Blair, posted a message on the PTSA listserv which stated that the van "is used for recruiting purposes and paints a glorified, unrealistic picture of the military."

Fox, in response to Fletcher's statement, said that she was exaggerating. "People coming in here are so anti-military, anti-government - they're going to blow this out of proportion," he said.

The van is "an opportunity for people to get information on army opportunities," according to Kelly Rowe, Baltimore Recruiting Battalion Public Affairs Officer. The videos showed in the van theater are educational but "are all related to the military," he said.

Goethals said that the videos are not related to the military but are "for education." He later stated that the video topics range from genes to the Bill of Rights and "kind of break the ice," adding that the van's purpose is to show the army in a different light. "It's kind of like passive recruiting in its own messed up way," he said.

Gurian-Sherman disapproved of the videos and said that the discussion after each video was not educational. She cited one example where Goethals related the "real rush" from the roller-coaster video to a first-person army experience of the "real rush" of parachuting. "I think that equating the fun and risk of the military with roller coasters was disingenuous," she said, adding that there was a difference between "parachuting for pleasure and parachuting onto oncoming bullets."
An Army recruiter outside the Cinema Van. Payal Patnaik
An Army recruiter outside the Cinema Van.

Fletcher questioned the context of the video. "Class time should not be taken up for a presentation that is pitched as being of educational value, while really geared to promoting the military." Gurian-Sherman supported Fletcher's concern, calling the presentation "the notion of an educational video on the pretext of marketing."

Questionable motives

Fletcher admonished Blair administration for allowing the van of "dubious educational value" to come to Blair. "School administrators are not required to allow these vans to come; federal law only requires same access for all recruiters."

Gurian-Sherman's father, a veteran, helped load wounded soldiers into helicopters during the Korean War. "The sacrifice is formidable. They have a lack of civil liberties," she said. "I think it demeans the military to minimize the risk there is in it."

Fletcher raised a concern in her listserv e-mail that the van offered battle-simulation computer games to students. There was a game station in the back of the van, according to Goethals, but the video games are used at different events, such as NASCAR races and air shows, and have been offered to high-school students only three times in the past, with full approval from the local school board. The games, he said, teach the player to use a 9 mm laser gun to shoot still and moving virtual targets, not humans.

Gurian-Sherman did not believe the recruiting to be passive, as students, she said, were required to fill out the form, which read, "The information you voluntarily provide will be used for recruiting purposes only," in small print at the bottom of the card. "For accountability purposes, they just need a headcount," she said. "This is nothing but a slick marketing tool."

The motto of the van was, "Stay in school, stay out of drugs," Goethals asserted.

Gurian-Sherman agreed with the message, but said that the van's methods backfired on its motto. "I think that it's a terrific message, but if you're recruiting people to join the army at 17, you're not telling them to stay in school," she said.

Gurian-Sherman disapproved of the army van as a whole. "They do a disservice to the men and women who put on the uniform," she said.

Click here to view a photo gallery.

Additional reporting by Jeff Lautenberger.

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  • senior on February 4, 2006 at 7:50 AM
    If you're gonna join the Army, you're going to have to go to war. Capiche?
  • Sam on February 4, 2006 at 2:31 PM
    senior- If you join the army you run the risk of being send to war but you could also end up being stationed at a base

    Personally I wish recruiters would just go back to their old methods of recruiting at Blair.
  • Izaak Orlansky (View Email) on February 4, 2006 at 2:40 PM
    Nice article. First one to get something from the army recruiter. One question remains on my mind though: What were the students thinking? What did they think about the protest, the van, etc.? Is this just a parent-instigated thing or are there students who care deeply about this issue, on one side or another?

    And finally, the claim that the army wants people to drop out of school and join at 17 is just a terrible one. I don't think any recruiter comes to high school hoping to get kids to drop out. You should get the army's response on that one.
  • 07 on February 4, 2006 at 7:03 PM
    I don't see why people are making such a big deal about recruiters at Blair. Students are old enough to decide for themselves what they want to do after high school, and they should have access to information about ALL of their options, including the military.
  • hey on February 4, 2006 at 9:23 PM
    1. stacy gurian sherman you are crazy. although i admit you have a good heart, first you crazy parents complain about "recruiters" in the school, then the army goes outside, and therfore is only accessed by student who choose to go outside. I thought that's what you wanted.
  • blazer on February 4, 2006 at 9:24 PM
    "Class time should not be taken up for a presentation that is pitched as being of educational value, while really geared to promoting the military."

  • Mark on February 4, 2006 at 10:22 PM
    It certainly is wrong to glorify war and equate a riding a roller coaster to parachuting into a bunch of bullets, and the current war in Iraq certainly is wrong, and these people have every right to protest but this whole issue really has gotten blown out of proportion.

    If a student does not wish to be recruited it's as simple as not going into the van or refusing to fill out the form. Also, at lunch the recruiters just stand there and wait for students to approach them, they dont approach the students. It's the students choice to do so.

    People do need to ease up on the military, the people in the van were just doing their jobs, just like a lawyer, plumber, teacher or anyone else. It's not like they're preforming a second My Le massacre.
  • . on February 4, 2006 at 10:38 PM
    wow. timely, well-written, and indepth. good job varun. you really keep up the sco reputation.
  • Jose Montoya on February 4, 2006 at 10:45 PM
    The military serves a great oppurtunity to young currently in the Delayed entry program for the marine corp...its the best decision i've made...while in the corp u can go to school and become an officer if desired...the military provides the discipline and character that all citizens should have...for me, joinin the military is patriotic way to give back to your country even if it involves goin to war for a country we take for granted...well yea pretty much if you can see yourself in the military i recommend it...and people of 17 years of age are old enough to make a decision on military service...i enlisted on my birthday and i feel i carried a good decision towards my future...
  • ME on February 5, 2006 at 11:15 AM
    WEll its no secret that soldiers die come on now. I think its up from the students decide wheteher it appeals to them or not
  • Gleich (View Email) on February 5, 2006 at 3:05 PM
    The issue here is not whether or not students should be able to decide if they want to join the military or not. No one says that decision doesn't belong in their hands.

    The problem is that, contrary to Mark's statement, recruiters are crossing legal boundries left and right just inside the walls of Blair. I myself have witnessed recruiters getting names and phone numbers under pretenses of buying students class shirts, for example.

    It is fine for recruiters to be stationed, waiting for Blazers to approach them. It is NOT okay for them to accost anyone in the hallway, subtly or otherwise, to join the military.
  • whitney on February 5, 2006 at 10:16 PM
    Get over it people. As much as we might like it for each kid to be able to go to college, its not possible. Some kids dont have that option. Some kids need something that can only be gotten from the army. We talk so much about colleges and higher education, why not talk about the other side of the coin? Why not talk about the other option for those kids who tune out of college conversations? It's not like they come to our classes, or hold an assembly like colleges sometimes do. They go in the cafeteria and they have a truck outside the school. Stop treating us like ignorant children. We know what happens to those in the military, and we know that they are trying to recruit us. We arent as naive as you might think, having preconscieved notions of grandeur. Would you rather Americas youth on the streets? Or fighting for their country. If you dont want your kid in the military, tell them not to go. But dont speak for those of us who have the army as a validated option for our future. If you dont want to talk to an army representative, say no. It's not rocket science, and its not hard. You teach your children to say no to everything else: Tell them to say no to the representatives.

    And for those parents who come to school to protest- get over it and go to work. It's our fight, not yours
  • on February 5, 2006 at 10:19 PM
    The fact that the van's presence created discomfort among parents and community members already puts a dim light on the van's motives. Recruiting should be an open, revealed process, not hidden in a van parked in front of a school; if an organization intends to recruit, the students should know that that is why they are there. A military van proclaiming "Stay in school, stay out of drugs" as its only motive is confusing and unclear. As other people have said, as long as recruiters wait for students to approach them and ask for personal information clearly for the purpose of recruitment, then the process is fine.
  • i doubt it on February 5, 2006 at 10:33 PM
    to Gleich-

    I don't believe you. period. you saw army recruiters pretend to sell class shirts when actually recruiting. First off, anyone who would buy a "class t-shirt" from somebody in a military uniform is an idiot, and if you did see this, why didn't you report it until now?
  • Oh'dear Sore Toe on February 6, 2006 at 8:53 AM
    I'm not for it but let people do what they want to do if their making that choice it's because they know what they are getting themselves into so everyone else stop crying about it
  • geez on February 6, 2006 at 10:51 AM
    we should draft the protesters
  • no draft on February 6, 2006 at 12:28 PM
    This conversation would not be happening if there was a draft. To the parents who don't want the Army to recruit, why don't we just have a draft? Then you could protest all you want over that. Besides, like others have said, it is up to us STUDENTS to fight our own battles. Stop living in the 1960s.
  • weeeee on February 6, 2006 at 1:21 PM
    10 out of 9 doctors agree that joining the army has positive effects on one's health.
  • k on February 6, 2006 at 4:51 PM
    the van was here last year, nobody did anything about it then...

    i would like to point out that they did not make filling out the forms seem like an option. they gave you the form and said "give us your name/age/school, the rest is optional". while legally they have no right to demand that information, and i did not give it to them, most people did not see it as an option and filled out the form anyway.

    i know its not an automatic recruitment, and i'm not against the idea of the army promoting itself at school, but i don't like how they make student's rights seem insignificant and seem to keep them misinformed.
  • David on February 6, 2006 at 6:22 PM
    what's a six person protest gonna do?
  • Gleich (View Email) on February 6, 2006 at 7:17 PM
    To "I doubt it"-
    You misread what I wrote. The recruiter was not selling the shirt, he bought it for a junior.
  • helpless? on February 6, 2006 at 10:07 PM
    do blazer parents think that we are so mindless that we are all going to drop out of school at 17, join the army and think that there is no chance of us getting hurt or killed simply because that is what the army van *supposedly* implies?
  • jmh on February 9, 2006 at 11:01 PM
    check this out:
    http://www.washing le/2006/02/02/AR2006020202305.html
  • . on February 10, 2006 at 7:13 PM
    For some people joining the army is their only option. Some will get a better education at a military school and have the chance to actually get a degree. If they don't have this opportunity or they don't know the options that the army has they may get stuck with just a high school degree. Army recruiters should not be allowed to badger students, but I do not see that happening at Blair. Recruiters should be able to let students know about the options. In the end the decision to join is strictly up to the student and their parents. If you don't want to join, then don't. But allow others to have the opportunity.
  • Patton Adams (View Email) on February 12, 2006 at 1:13 AM
    I enjoyed the article and thought it was pretty fairly written, although I thought it could have framed the points of the "conflict" between Gurian-Sherman and the recruiters a little more clearly.

    Gurian-Sherman was making some uninformed statements about the Army, and the article provided no counterpoints to those statements.

    The Army can't use you if you don't complete high school or a GED. The recruiter certainly could have confirmed that.

    I served in the Army for 6 years, and joined at 27, after I had been through graduate school. I learned a 4th foreign language, received a security clearance, received some advanced technical training - all of which helped later in my career. I was stationed in Monterey, CA and in Hawaii, both great places to live. I got to travel frequently as part of my Army job but never saw any combat - however, I would not have shied away from a deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan if I had been given that assignment.

    My point here is that the Army, and military in general, is more than what most protesters realize it is. Recruiters can tell you a lot about what the military offers as a job (or even career) option. But recruiters are given lots of pressure to sign people up, so, as with any salesman, don't commit to anything until you have documented answers to all of the questions you can ask. And ask as many detailed questions as you can.
  • pacifist on February 12, 2006 at 10:02 PM
    recruiters have the right to station themselves in the parking lot because it is the students that choose to come to them
  • SSG DYE (View Email) on February 13, 2006 at 9:54 AM
    I am the Army Recruiter and the fact is if you drop out you are no good to anybody, not even your country. No I do not tell people to drop out of school and join the Army. In fact I just tell people of the options that are out there for them. If they decide to go with the Army I then help them down that road in their life. As far as further education the easiest way to ger promoted in the Army, ahead of your peers, is to let the Army pay for college and further you education. As far as the van, we brought it to school last year with no problems. I just want to make sure that everybody that wants to know there options with the Army has the opportunity to listen to what we have to say and make the decision for THEMSELVES.
  • : (View Email) on February 25, 2006 at 1:37 PM
    Unreal. Every student has a right to do as they please. After ten years of being a recruiter I simply can't understand how anything we (the United States Military and it's Recruiters) do is less than completely, and totally obvious to everyone. First is our title: 'Recruiter'. Ask any eighth-grader to define the word, but remember we're recruiting 12th graders. Secondly, recruiters are walking billboards wearing our uniforms. I can't conceive how the comment was made that the Army concealed it's agenda in a tractor-trailer that says 'Army' and has a big Apache helocopter on the side, regardless of what else it says. Again, ask any eighth-grader. I've participated in several cinema van set-ups. The forms that the students filled out are used for recruitment, IF THEY EXPRESS AN INTEREST IN THE ARMY, but not harassment. Why is 'recruiting' a dirty word, when it all comes down to one simple question that can be answered 'no'? Those forms are also used to justify the expense of this traveling tool by the amount of people it serves....your tax-payer's money spent.

    I know there are very few in America that would openly state they don't 'support the troops'. Please don't forget that recruiters are 'the troops' too, a lot are combat veterans, and most of which do this as a three-year duty before returning to the more accepted definition of 'the troops'. Everything we as recruiters accomplish increases the overall strength of the US military and supports our ability to fight and win our Nations wars, which is where we declared our independence and have protected the freedoms we've enjoyed since our Nation's birth.

    As a parent to a 17 year old, who's used to providing everything for your child from diapers to present, you had better get used to the fact they are a hair's breadth away from a legal adult. Someone who can vote, get a loan and own property, AND someone who can take the safety and security of this nation as his or her own personal responsibility.

    The bottom line is: the draft is gone, at least in the USA. A large amount of the world still has conscription, so count your blessings and quit pushing the country back towards it again. Recruiting is necessary for America's ALL-VOLUNTEER force, and to the high-school student that can pass the ASVAB test and qualify for the military, our 'hidden' agenda isn't hidden at all. I think they've proven that in previous comments.

    Funny, none were interviewed for the original article for their opinion at the time.
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