On Wednesday November 4th, two counter recruiters from War Resistors League were at Franklin High School during a military recruiting event. They witnessed a student led protest of the military recruiters and described it as follows:
"Soon after I arrived, a group of male juniors and seniors lined up in front of the military recruiter tables (while 5 students also male) were talking to recruiters. The juniors and seniors were carrying large signs protesting the recruiters presence and also verbally talking across to the potential listees about the horrors of war. They also flyered with graphic depictions of recent Middle East wars and the illegal, empire driven actions of the US. The principal of the school after about 10 minutes came out and asked the students to stop and leave the area and the students refused to leave on the basis of freedom of speech and their rights under out Constitution."
Following this event, Ernie Freund, the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battallion in Portland submitted a very misleading letter to the editor in two Portland publicatons; The Bee, and the Portland Tribune. The text of that letter is as follows:
Last Wednesday (November 4, just one week before Veterans Day), at Franklin High School, two Army recruiters offered information on military careers, education and medical benefits. Recruiters help students to understand how Army service can help them accomplish their life goals. When they turn 17 or have parental consent (17), youth can make informed decisions.
Under Portland Public Schools' equal access policy, PPS invited "counter recruiters." This allegedly provides alternate perspectives and other career paths to students seeking military career information. However, on November 4, about 10 unidentified 20-year olds (and perhaps some Franklin students) prepared for counter recruiting disrupted the event. They distributed inflammatory materials labeling Soldiers terrorists and "hitmen" and containing explicit images. They offered nothing helpful for students' futures, only propaganda, whereas recruiters had information on the free college-test preparation course available to all (March2Success.com).
This mob intimidated students who sought information and also called Army recruiters "baby killers." These two professionals have experienced worse; between them they have six combat tours and one Purple Heart. I recognize and defend PPS students' right to assemble and exercise free speech in responsible ways. If PPS has taught them well, they should research facts and exercise critical thought before responsible action.
However, no one should harass youth for seeking opportunities or insult and bully students with veteran family members. It is very disturbing that PPS lacks sufficient capacity to prevent unknown outsiders from accessing and intimidating students. Who were these individuals.... were they armed... or criminals? Do parents consent? PPS has not explained.
This under-resourced, paternalistic "equal access" approach does not protect students (who can legally decide themselves) but gives activists without credentials a stage for antics while denying deserving students opportunities. Parents should ask PPS to reexamine the risk of "counter recruiter" access; it jeopardizes their goal to prepare students "to make productive life decisions."
In full disclosure, I command the U.S. Army Recruiting Battallion in Portland. I am also the proud father of two PPS students.
In response to Mr. Freund's irresponsible and misleading letter, our own Angie Hines has written and sent the following letter to both of these publications.
the November 2015 letter by Lt. Colonel Ernie Freund, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion, asserted that the counter-recruiting team implanted protesters, up to age 20 and possibly armed criminals, into Franklin High School to confront military recruiters on November 4th, 2015.
His biased outburst is an insult to the intelligence and protected freedoms of the students. Freund has suggested to the public that these student demonstrators may be armed adult criminals. Considering the school shootings that have take place nationwide, this nescient comment humiliates families and survivors of such attacks. It promotes an atmosphere of fear, foments images of terror, and mocks American students' Constitutional Rights.
The students who protested on Nov. 4th did so on their own accord, with no assistance from the counter-recruiting team. Counter-recruiters were not involved in the planning or implementation of any student action that may have occurred. That is not what counter-military recruiters do on Portland Public School (PPS) campuses.
I have been a counter-recruiter for 5 years in the PPS District. I am an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran. I never tell children not to join the military, but I do ask them to consider the severity of making that choice. That is what our voluntary counter-recruiting team does. Our educators comprise veterans ranging from wars in Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan. We are former special forces soldiers, combat, and non-combat veterans. We are social workers, former public school teachers, parents, and peaceful citizens.
The wars mentioned above have resulted in millions of deaths. The economic cost is in the trillions. Freund enjoys his paycheck, funded with our tax dollars, to write an appeal to abandon First Amendment protections. Freund's letter does nothing to help our veterans who remain vulnerable to tax austerity fall-out and risk higher rates of houselessness, unemployment, suicide, substance abuse, and moral injury than the non-veteran population.
Military recruiters seem to desire sole and unprohibited access to children and for the public to view dissenting PPS adolescents as weaponized adult aggressors, being "puppeteered" by the peace community.
As the Middle East and parts of Africa crumble into total chaos, resulting in the largest exodus in recent history, and rates of US military death by suicide surpasses death by combat, it it imperative that our youth have truthful information about the military. We should consider the words of thousands of veterans nationwide, hundreds of which who spoke at the 2009 Winter Soldier Testimonies, who will tell you that we do not wish war on our worst enemy. www.ivaw.org/wintersoldier
Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Navy