The War in America’s Classrooms

Propeller Films is now wrapping up this blog and moving towards concentrating our outreach efforts on our new film, Watchers of the Sky. You can check it out starting in 2013!

The educational outreach and audience engagement program for The Recruiter has been an amazing experience for all the people involved in it. You can continue to screen the film for your community and use our FREE curriculum in your classroom. You can also watch videos of how the film has been used by teachers in the past.

Please check out the article below to hear about our experiences bringing The Recruiter into classrooms across the nation:

War In America’s Classrooms (Propeller Films 2010)

Desecrating Dead Bodies: Parris Island’s Response

The war in Afghanistan has been a topic of conversation this spring not simply because of ongoing skirmishes, casualties, and plans for withdrawing troops but also because of troubling instances of military misconduct.  Reports of a rogue soldier massacring 17 civilians in southern Afghanistan and the release of pictures of soldiers posing with body parts and urinating on dead bodies have created a public relations fire storm for the American military. As more information about the instances came to light, questions about military discipline and standards loomed.  While the White House has issued statements and taken the stance that such behavior does not represent our armed forces, the Marine Corps has articulated its own position. General James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, stated in an April 2012 interview with the New York Times that his personal response to such news was to order a review of ethics training throughout the Corps at all levels.  At Parris Island now, drill sergeants advise young recruits about ethical behavior in addition to the standard marksmanship, combat, and general training the recruits undergo during the 13 weeks.  Staff Sgt. Levar Woods advises his recruits that part of what it means to be a Marine is “doing the right thing when no one is looking.”   Desecrating dead bodies, regardless of whose they are, is not behavior worthy of Marines, and Staff Sgt. Woods expounds that the recruits cannot be silent bystanders to Marine wrongdoing.  Though the whole military should arguably have a hand in teaching ethical behavior in and out of combat, this kind of grass-roots approach by the Marine Corps at the recruit level seems to be a positive starting point.

Photographs of American Soldiers with Body Parts of Deceased Suicide Bombers

The Los Angeles Times caused a great deal of controversy for the White House this week when it published photographs of United States soldiers posing with body parts of deceased Afghani suicide bombers.  Though the photographs are reportedly two years old, a soldier who served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne’s Fourth Brigade Combat Team from Fort Bragg, North Carolina gave them to the newspaper just this week.  U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta immediately apologized for the pictures and expressed concern that the graphic images could incite fresh violence against Americans.  He stated at an April 16th press conference at the Pentagon that “this is not who we are, and it’s certainly not what we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform.”  The White House described the pictures as “reprehensible,” with President Obama calling for an investigation of the situation.  The release of the pictures occurred on the tails of another disturbing event of the war in Afghanistan—the March 2012 massacre of 17 Afghani villagers, including nine children, by a rogue American soldier in Kandahar Province.  Both events have strained the Afghan-American relationship, especially during a period in which both nations are in talks about winding down the war in Afghanistan.

Collective Responsibility?

Earlier this week Chris Miller had a powerful opinion piece about the atrocities allegedly committed by Sgt. Robert Bales in Afghanistan and the “lone gunman” theory. Bales is the army officer accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, nine of them children. In his piece he says, “America shares in the collective responsibility for this incident.” He does not dispute that Bales acted alone, but he impresses on his reader the responsibility of leaders who send soldiers on multiple tours over the course of a decade (read more here). In one of their articles on Bales, the New York Times writes about how Bales trained to be a recruiter and, if he had landed that position, he would have been able to skip going to Afghanistan. Instead the Army kept him in the infantry. Read more about who Bales was here.

The New Military: Armed Forces after Iraq

With the Iraq War ended and the U.S. Military budget caught in the crosshairs of budget reduction talks in the        wake of the congressional super-comittee’s failure, President Barrack Obama now details plans to reduce military expenditure by creating a stream-lined “leaner” military.

There will be fat-trimming, soldier reduction, and more than likely cuts to military pay and healthcare. On a larger scale, this means that the United States military in undergoing a reconstruction – focusing on maximizing the results of a reduced armed forces. Which, in turn, will mean less soldiers.

President Obama claims he will not repeat mistakes made in the wake of WWII and the Vietnam War by over-reducing the military budget, but is working with military leaders to achieve its part of the proposed $500 billion in cuts to reduce the national deficit.

“These changes will not be painless”, says Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta at the Pentagon’s defense press conference.

Certainly, cuts in soldier’s pay and healthcare will be anything but painless.

For more on this story, read the full article at PBS News Hour.

The End of the Mission: Troops Leave Iraq

The Retiring of the US Forces Flag

Granted, there     has not been     much activity from our blog since November, but  the end of the war in Iraq ends our silence.

The nine year     long mission has concluded with a sense of unease and a muddled understanding of what was achieved in Iraq and whether the 9 years of military engagement and more than 4500 American lives lost (not to mention the losses of the Iraqi people) was worth the fragile democracy wrought by the effort. Defense secretary Leon E. Panetta pulls no punch as he states “Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide”

But along with discussions assessing the success or necessity of the mission in Iraq, the close of a war brings with it another trial more immediate to the American household: the painful transition of soldiers re-entering civilian life. “With us leaving Iraq, are we going to lose a lot of the focus on the soldiers that are here now and are coming back, and have grave injuries and are going to require the country’s support for years?” asks Troy Denomy, former Captain in the Iraq effort.

For more about the end of the U.S. military involvement in Iraq: New York Times

For more about America’s returning soldiers: ABC News

Scott Olsen: The Accidental Occupy Wall Street Symbol

Scott Olsen, 24, has become both hero and symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement after he was critically injured during an Occupy Oakland protest. Despite the peaceful protest methods, local law enforcement officers proceeded to shoot rubber bullets and tear gas at a crowd of protesters, hitting Olsen in the head and causing a fractured skull injury, which left him in critical condition.

Olsen was a former U.S. Marine and two-time Iraq war veteran. After his second stint in Iraq, Olsen left the army and joined the Iraq Veterans against the War. Articles on Olsen highlight the irony in the fact that Olsen returned from both stints in Iraq unharmed only to be critically injured on American soil.

The depiction of Olsen that has emerged from recent media coverage is one of a man whose personal journey emulates many of the social dynamics that have given rise to the Occupy movement. These dynamics include the dilemma of veterans forced to join the ranks of the unemployed, police brutality, and income inequality.

The news of Olsen’s injury broke quickly and spread through Twitter, which mobilized OWS protesters to strengthen their unity:


Olsen is in fair condition and is being treated in a local hospital, according to friends and family. Both doctors and family members have declined to comment on the details of his condition saying that he is cognizant after undergoing surgery.

For more information read The Reuters article and the article.

-Catherine Lee


Portland Schools to Permit Anti-War Activists to Recruit

The Portland school board approved a new rule this past Monday, October 24th, allowing anti-war “counter-recruiters” equal access to high school students that the military currently receives under Federal Law.

Although there is no hard evidence of military recruiters using ruthless or aggressive tactics in Portland high schools these days, the board has preceded to adopt the new rule in order to achieve, “a balanced account of military service,” said school board member Matt Morton, one of at least four board members supporting the policy.

In a recent article, the Oregonian reported that the policy is similar to those already in place in Seattle and San Francisco amongst other left-leaning city school districts. School district staff members will write rules governing which peace activists can recruit at schools and under what conditions. They will also develop a counsel packet to handout at every high school, informing students of the horrors of war, the nature of Military contracts, and students’ rights to withhold their contact information from the military. Anti-war counter recruiters are expected to gain access to Portland high schools beginning in January 2012.

Read the Oregonian article for more information.

-Catherine Lee

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repealed, Marines Recruit

In December 2010 voting by both the House and Senate repealed the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the revisions were sent to President Obama to sign. Less than a year later it came to an end on September 20th at 12:01 AM. It was delayed until Obama could confirm that repealing the ban would not jeopardize the military’s ability to fight.

He was quoted saying, “As commander in chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness.”

With the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” comes a larger pool from which to recruit. There is also the possibility of the re-enlistment of the 14,000 openly gay service men and women who were honorably discharged in the past 17 years because of the policy. Though the day-to-day life in the military will not change, it will have a considerable effect on the homosexual and bisexual service members. They will no longer have to live in fear of losing their jobs or being investigated. There will also be zero tolerance for discrimination, violence, and harassment of any kind.

As for one of the Marines top-recruiting trainers for the southwestern United States, Master Sgt. Anthony Henry hit the ground running on the 21st, the first day of the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  He headed to Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, the biggest gay community center in Tulsa, Oklahoma in search of new recruits. Originally the Marines were the service most opposed to the ending of the policy, but they were the only branch of the five to be at the center recruiting that morning.

Although there was no outpouring of gay and lesbian applicants for the Marines, there was significant media coverage of the event. Of the day only three women came out in hopes of joining. They were all turned away for different reasons. Later in the day the Marines held a panel discussion in this uncharted territory. Sgt. Henry knew that things would start off slow, but in regards to allowing gays and lesbians into the military he said “if they can make it through our boot camp, which is the toughest boot camp in the world, then they ought to have the opportunity to wear the uniform.”

AVAW and IVAW Recent Events

This month the Afghanistan Veterans Against the War (AVAW) speaking tour began its first in a series of events to take place around the country from August 22-31. The IVAW Bay Area chapter hosted the first stop and the following will take place at Coffee Strong near Fort Lewis, Wa.

Jacob George and Brook McIntosh, co-founders of AVAW went to Afghanistan last month with a U.S. delegation for nonviolence. Upon meeting with local Afghan peace and social justice organizations, they embarked on a two-part mission.  The first, to understand Afghans’ fears, needs, and desires for their country, and to figure out ways U.S. activists can maintain nonviolent efforts to obtain those goals.

The two will be joining to talk about the recent discussions between Afghanistan Veterans and Afghan Citizens. Also Alejandro Villatoro will be present the at the Midwest stops of the tour. Villatoro recently completed a tour of duty with the Illinois Army National Guard in Afghanistan.

Check out the Events page to find if the tour stops near you!


Another Veterans’ event that took place last month was the International Veterans Against the War (IVAW)’s 2011 Convention.  Sixty members from all over the country came out to share in decision-making, camaraderie, and friendship from August 4-7 at Portland State University. Over forty allies and invited speakers attended

The event coincided with Veterans for Peace and with the combined conventions, gave way to almost 40 workshops covering a variety of topics. The workshops were streamed live and are available for future screenings at U-stream channel. Some of the workshops included were Media to Counter-Recruitment, Creative Resistance, Military Sexual Trauma, and PTSD.

IVAW members also heard from leaders of successful organizing movements, screened David Zeiger’s new Winter Soldier documentary, “This Is Where We Take Our Stand,” and took part in a strategy meeting. From the election a new resolution on Palestine emerged, as well as a strong, new Board of Directors. The 2011 Election Results can be viewed here.

-By Kaitlyn Plum

Army Deployments Will Be Reduced to Nine Months

On August 5, the U.S. Army announced that it would be reducing the length of deployment to overseas war zones to nine months, as opposed to the current standard of twelve months. This reduced deployment length is set to take effect in April 2012. Such a move should ease the stress on troops who are already stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army Secretary John McHugh emphasized this point, stating, “The reduced deployment length will improve soldier and family quality of life while continuing to meet operational requirements, and is an important step in sustaining the all-volunteer-force.” Deployments were previously extended to 15 months in 2007. They have typically lasted for 12 months since then, although longer deployments are not uncommon. This announcement comes after the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force released a report on July 29, which states that there were 160 suicides in the Army during the 2009 fiscal year. Most of these suicides were among those who had only been deployed once (or not at all) or were in their first term of service. Shorter deployments are therefore hoped to reduce stress and decrease instances of suicide. Although the standard two weeks of rest and relaxation will disappear and the reduced deployments do not apply to everyone in the U.S. military, the change should be an overall positive step for the Army. Read more about the reduced deployments at CNN and about the Suicide Prevention Task Force report at the Army’s website.

By Meaghan Kelley, Connecticut College ’12

Army Recruiters Seek to Send Young Scientists Into the Future

U.S. Army recruiters are looking to the future: the year 2032. A new video game-inspired, interactive recruitment apparatus will transport recruits into the future, where their science and technology skills will be put to the test. This new recruitment tool is called the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Innovation Asset and it is set to be unveiled in the week before the All-American Bowl, which is scheduled for January 7, 2012 in San Antonio. The STEM Asset will be a tractor-trailer equipped with advanced technologies geared towards engaging recruits in an interactive environment. The trailer will drive across the country to various STEM education outreach events for middle school, high school, and college students. Students will move through three rooms within the trailer where they will interact with TVs, touchscreen computers, and each other to solve a humanitarian crisis centered around a chemical plant attack in Eastern Europe, set in the year 2032. This future-oriented concept will remove students from the present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that they see on the news constantly, activating their minds in a new and creative way. Katie Everett, a STEM outreach coordinator, states, “This will be a first attempt to assess the interest in recruiting students who want to become civilian engineers and scientists right along uniformed Soldiers.” These science-based positions are often hard to fill. Recruiters hope to incite such an interest in the Army with the new STEM Asset, while simultaneously gauging their relationship with school systems. Read more at the U.S. Army’s website.

By Meaghan Kelley, Connecticut College ’12

‘U.S. Suspends One-Third of American Military Aid to Pakistan’

The United States recently announced the suspension of $800 million of its more than $2 billion in annual aid to Pakistan. Tensions with Pakistan have been mounting in recent weeks after Pakistan’s expulsion of American military trainers from the country. Pakistan’s actions most likely stem from the humiliation the country sustained following the U.S.’s May 2nd raid and killing of Osama bin Laden in his compound located not far from the capital of Islamabad. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explained the decision to suspend aid to Pakistan by stating, “When it comes to our military aid, we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see certain steps taken.” The cuts include about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of deploying troops along the Afghan border, as well as the delivery of military equipment. Although the United States is hoping to spur Pakistan to action, many analysts are stating that these cuts could actually harm U.S.-Pakistan relations and, subsequently, American efforts against al-Qaeda. Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., stressed the negative impact these cuts could have on the U.S. government and military: “I think it hurts Washington more than it hurts Islamabad. Assistance is influence, and when you withhold it or suspend it, you deprive yourself of influence.” Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times.

By Meaghan Kelley, Connecticut College ’12

Obama Calls For Withdrawal of 20,000 American Troops From Afghanistan By Next Summer

In a speech on June 22, President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and a total of 20,000 troops by the end of next summer. Steady withdrawals would lead up to the United States handing over security to Afghan authorities in 2014. Mr. Obama declared that the United States had achieved many of its goals in Afghanistan and announced a new plan to focus more on targeted counterterrorism operations, like the one that killed Osama bin Laden in early May. While leaders such as Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates support Mr. Obama’s decision, others like General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have expressed reservations, particularly concerning the scale and rate of the reductions. Representatives of the Afghan government and military support the withdrawals, as long as the Afghan government is strong enough to stand on its own once all American troops have left. One of the major factors affecting President Obama’s decision is the national debt. He stated, “Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource: our people.” These reductions will coincide with Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign next year. Read more at The New York Times.

By Meaghan Kelley, Connecticut College ’12

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden Campaign For Public Support of Military Families

On Monday, June 13 first lady Michelle Obama took part in a panel at the Writers Guild Theater in Los Angeles in order to promote her Joining Forces initiative. Started with Jill Biden, Joining Forces seeks to remind the public “that when our country goes to war, we have families that are serving right along with them.” In particular, Mrs. Obama addressed the panel, which was moderated by director J.J. Abrams, about the importance of positive representations of military families on television and in film. The Joining Forces website outlines the organization’s initiatives to provide opportunities and support to military families. These include expanding employment opportunities for veterans and military spouses, supporting military children in their academic endeavors, and educating the public about issues facing veterans and military families, such as matters of wellness. The service members who joined Mrs. Obama on yesterday’s panel said that “simple gestures of thanks are often the most meaningful.” This reminder to thank the military and their families comes at an appropriate time, as today marks both Flag Day and the celebration of the U.S. Army’s 236th birthday. Read more about the panel at CBS News. For more on the Army’s birthday, visit the Army’s website.

By Meaghan Kelley, Connecticut College ’12

New Army Recruitment Methods Reflect Significance of Digital and Social Media

The most recent installment of the Army’s recruitment ad campaign highlights the Army uniform as a “symbol of strength,” is narrated by actor Gary Sinise, and urges viewers to learn more online at This call to the Army’s recruitment website is just the start of its new emphasis on digital media. With increasingly low recruitment and enrollment numbers, the Army is relying on social media sites to reach out to young potential recruits. One method involves a sponsorship deal with 20th Century Fox, specifically concerning their summer blockbuster X-Men: First Class, which was released on June 3. On the Army Facebook page, visitors are able to access exclusive content from the film. Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, commanding general at the Army Accessions Command, which overseas recruitment, points out the similarities between the film and the Army: “[The movie] is about young people who are ordinary doing extraordinary things. Ordinary people come in the Army and do extraordinary things every day.” Significantly, General Freakley goes on to emphasize the reality of the Army over the glamour of Hollywood. The X-Men sponsorship deal is just the beginning of the Army’s relationship with digital and social media, especially if the partnership proves successful. Read more at The New York Times and follow the U.S. Army Accessions Command on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, watch their new ads on YouTube or in theaters.

By Meaghan Kelley, Connecticut College ’12

Philadelphia Community Screening

On March 31st Penn Army of None, a community group in the Philadelphia area, hosted a screening of The Recruiter followed by a dynamic post-screening panel discussion.

Jo Ann Zimmerman, Director of Penn Army of None, said:

“The film screening was a great experience… the film generated quite a lot of discussion, both with the speaker panel and the audience in general.”

The panel included:
Steve Gulick, Philadelphia Coordinator, War Resisters’ League
Celeste Zappala–Founder and member of Military Families Speak Out
Amy Herrera, Iraq Veterans Against War

Afterwards teachers in the audience were directed to the film’s lesson plans, which were developed to be taught alongside the film in high school classrooms.

Penn Army of None is part of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

If you are interested in hosting a similar screening in your community please contact us.

In Memoriam

By Jacob Joubert

Jacob Joubert, an active duty member of the American military, has taken on an ambitious project to represent every U.S. war veteran who lost his life to war since the civil war. In his twelve large-scale paintings, Joubert plans to draw hash marks for the one and a half million people who have died fighting for their country to represent this collective loss in a candid but visually powerful fashion.

Through this project, Joubert wants his viewers to engage themselves in an internal conversation about wars and what they mean for the individuals that actively partake in them. “I’m not using this series to lecture about a specific idea but instead to provoke thought. My desire is to guide the viewer toward a certain kind of imagery that ultimately encourages them to connect with the often ignored subject of war. In this process I allow the viewer’s curious mind to investigate further and uncover their own meaning upon and about our culture.”

For more information on this project and its progress, visit Jacob Joubert’s facebook page.

Representing Suicide Rates

"American Kills"

A comparison of the number of suicides among U.S war veterans with the numbers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is a powerful tool to enable people to think about war and its hidden costs.  Baffled by the fact that 304 veterans committed suicide compared to the 149 soldiers killed in Iraq in 2009, artist Sebastian Errazuriz set out to force people to stomach these rather unpleasant statistics.  Using the wall outside his studio as his canvas, Errazuriz presented these statistics using black tally marks to compare the two numbers.  Errazuriz tells us that he felt this was the “simplest and most vulnerable and heartfelt way (he) could have portrayed a human life”.

The overarching response that this piece elicited from Errazuriz’s audience was that of sheer astonishment. People often wondered whether these statistics were true and how these numbers compared with normal suicide statistics.  But Errazuriz felt that the questions of his audience were more a means to dispel tension and discomfort over these facts than anything else. “I don’t think they really needed answers from me; but just a moment to share their astonishment at the statistics in front of them.” For his future projects, Errazuriz is looking to find other forms of representation to work with these statistics. Through his endeavors, he hopes to make these facts less abstract and easier for ordinary citizens to visualize, understand and think about.

For more information on this project please visit CNN’s blog on Sebastian Errazuriz.

By Insiyah Mohammad, a student at Bennington College

Bedrooms of the Fallen

Bedroom of Christopher Scherer, a U.S. Marine who died in Iraq in 2007 at the age of 21.

“I’ve been covering conflict and war for more than 10 years, but this is the first time that I’ve really felt like a war photographer”- Ashley Gilbertson

After many years of taking pictures in combat zones, award-winning photographer Ashley Gilbertson has taken a new approach to represent war and its repercussions. Since 2007, Gilbertson has been photographing the bedrooms of members of the U.S military who have lost their lives to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These beautiful and heartbreaking black-and-white images give the viewer a chance to peek into the lives of these young people who will never return to the comforts of their childhood bedrooms. Gilbertson stresses that these are not meant to be obituaries, but are meant to serve as portraits of the lives of the curators of these rooms and their families. Gilbertson feels that the American public is desensitized to photographs from combat zones and that a new kind of war photography is essential to draw attention to the haunting consequences of war.

While pursuing this project, Gilbertson realized that these families found talking about their children very helpful and therapeutic. “People think they shouldn’t talk to military families about death,” Mr. Gilbertson said. “But in reality, all these families want to do is talk about their kids. If they are not being talked about, they’re not being remembered.” The photographs in this series are extremely poignant because they not only help us understand who these people were, but also show us the love and effort that these families invest to keep the memories of their children alive.

Through his recent projects Ashley Gilbertson has been trying to draw attention to veteran’s issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For more information on his projects please visit his website.

By Insiyah Mohammad, a student at Bennington College

Philadelphia Screening of The Recruiter

Penn Army of None is sponsoring a screening of “The Recruiter”
followed by a panel discussion by veterans, educators and students on
March 31, 2011 at 7pm at the Friends Center. Penn Army of None, a
Working Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, is a community coalition
that provides young people with nonmilitary alternatives for college,
career training, and community service. For reservations for this
event, please visit You can
also organize a similar style screening of “The Recruiter” in your own
community by visiting this page.

More Alarming Statistics on Veteran Suicide Rates

A recent assessment on veteran suicide rates by demonstrates that for the second year in a row, the U.S. military lost more troops to suicide in 2010 than it did to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The services reported 434 suicides by personnel on active duty in 2010. However, after adding the number of suicides by reservists, the total climbs to 468, which exceeds the total number of personnel lost in combat (462). Critics contend that these statistics do not only draw attention to the alarming inflating rates of suicides in the military, they also demonstrate the lack of adequate attention and support for military reservists.

Senate Repeals ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Ending a 17-year struggle with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ American military policy, the Senate has repealed the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military by a vote of 65 to 31. Eight Republicans joined the Democrats as the Senate ended the Clinton-era law and sent a new one to President Obama. After the vote President Obama said in a statement: “As commander in chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known.” To learn more go here.

Happy Veterans’ Day!

In the spirit of today, here is a link to the available statistics put out by the U.S. Census Bureau to celebrate American servicemen and women.

Have thoughts on what we should do to celebrate our veterans?  Post them on our forum!

The Way We Treat Our Troops

New York Times opinion columnist Bob Herbert argues that the way we treat American troops upon their return from tours of duty abroad is simply unacceptable.  He concludes that Americans are out of touch with the costs of war and that a military draft is a viable option to remind citizens of the costs of war.  “The idea that the United States is at war and hardly any of its citizens are paying attention to the terrible burden being shouldered by its men and women in uniform is beyond appalling,” he says.  Read Herbert’s full article here and insert your voice into the conversation on our forum.

Gay Recruits Gain Option to Serve

alg_obama_dont_askAfter the ruling by a California state federal judge that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” violates the First Amendment, military recruiters now must accept openly gay and lesbian applicants into the U.S. Army.  As some look to overrule the decision and reinstate “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” openly homosexual soldiers are warned that their opportunity to serve may be limited.  To learn more, click to read this New York Times article.

Suicide Rate Skyrocketing for Returning Soldiers


The death toll of soldiers who have died at the their own hands has reached extraordinary and record levels. The New York Times and Boston Globe confirmed that suicide rate, among active officers and soldiers, is four times the national average (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people throughout the United States). At Fort Hood, fourteen soldiers have committed suicide this year. Additionally, six other deaths are believed to be suicides but have yet to be finalized. This week alone, four veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan took their lives with self-inflicted gun shot wounds. The nation’s top military officer said that he expects suicides and other family crises to increase in the coming months as large numbers of troops return to their bases after years of multiple deployments.

Despite this apparent and growing trend, most the Army does not believe that any additional measures are necessary to tackle this problem. Although concerns are high in Fort Hood, the base argues that it already has an extensive suicide program. However, advocates pushing for stronger measures say there is a stigma among soldiers. Cynthia Thomas runs an organization of antiwar activists and says that most soldiers do not actively seek help for mental problems or suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, when counseling is sought, the answer is always pills. “You don’t get counseling, you get medication,” Ms. Thomas said. “These soldiers are breaking.”

By Emmanuel Novy: Grad Student at Columbia University

Recruitment costs rise 25% for Army and Marines

In a time when the rest of the world is tightening their belts and hiding their savings under the mattress, the Army and Marines are increasing expenses.  The two service branches share the responsibility of providing the most personnel for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  According to The Associated Press, in order to maintain high recruitment numbers, the Army and Marine Corps provided nearly $640 million in the past year in recruitment bonuses.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce stated, “This money helps create excitement…we recruit not only the soldier but his or her family, and this money is important to them.” Despite a US death toll of more than 4,100 in Iraq and increasing violence in Afghanistan, the bonuses seem to be working. The Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force all met their recruiting goals for the year.  With the promise of incentives that can be as high as $40,000 per person, compounded with thousands more for college and home down payments, the annual cost of baiting new recruits grew by 25 percent over last year.

By Emmanuel Novy: Grad Student at Columbia

Unemployment: The Armed Forces Strongest Recruitment Tool

PH2008112802826What was once seen as a last resort by many has become the only option.  Economic deprivation and high unemployment across the country has left individuals and families unable to put food on the tables, let alone go to college.  While most business are closing their doors, the armed forces are embracing the unemployed and college-seekers by offering options that promise to salvage their economic stability and hopes for the future.  The armed forces offer a steady paycheck, benefits and rarely fires anyone.  One may think that with the incredible violence in both Afghanistan and Iraq, recruitment numbers would be down.  However, the reality is quite the opposite.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Arizona Daily Star reported that last year, for the first time, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and the reserves met or exceeded their recruitment goals since the start of the all-volunteer force (1973).  Edet Belzberg’s documentary, The Recruiter, highlights the lives of young people recruited for similar reasons.  Lauren, an economically impoverished senior in high school, looks to the army as her only opportunity; living off minimum wage is simply not an option.  The recruiters for the army are taught professional selling skills and their tactics have paid off.  However, not everyone is encouraged by the large numbers of new recruits.   There are numerous parents who do not believe in the armed forces aggressive recruiting techniques and are pushing their children to seek alternatives.  Libby Frank, mother of a high school senior, stated, “They (students) feel their options in life are college, minimum wage or the military.”  However, when the pay and benefits are good and there are few alternatives, many young adults are willing to take a chance in order to have a better life.

Written by Emmanuel Novy: Graduate Student at Columbia University

Ambitious Goals in Afghanistan

Last month the United States brought to a close the active combat phase of a seven-year war.  This was a war that defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left thousands of American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.  Although most are ecstatic to see the war come to a close, those left in charge of building up Afghanistan security forces are left with an enormous challenge. The New York Times reported that over the next fifteen months 141,000 new soldiers and police officers would need to be recruited.

Simply finding over a hundred thousand soldiers and police officers is an ambitious goal but it is not the only difficult problem.  A major obstacle is illiteracy.  Without the ability to read and write in their own language many recruits are unable to perform even the most basic tasks, like reading serial numbers on weapons.  General Caldwell stated that drug abuse remains a problem and many recruits have been turned away, particularly among the police.  However, General Caldwell also said that recruits who showed evidence of marijuana are not turned away, because, “it’s so prevalent in society that we’d be kicking everybody out.”  Despite the challenges, General Caldwell said he had made progress and had so far met his recruiting targets. Currently, the Afghan Army numbers 134,000, with a goal of 171,600 by October 2011. The Afghan National Police has 115,500 officers, with a goal of 134,000 by October 2011.

Written by Emmanuel Novy: Graduate Student at Columbia University

U.S. Army National Guard Recruitment By The Numbers

Graphs of U.S. Army National Guard Recruitment from 2009 and 2010.  Why do you think certain months inspire more recruits?

Graphs of U.S. Army National Guard Recruitment from 2009 and 2010. Why do you think certain months inspire more recruits?

After looking through the past year of recruiting and retention statistics on the Department of Defense’s website, the number of future armed service men and women in the Army National Guard Reserves varies a surprisingly high amount in conjunction with a seemingly unrelated factor: the month of the year.

Why are the numbers for February through April so far above those of May through July? The DOD says there are intentionally less U.S. Army National Guard Reserves recruits in the past few months because the beginning of the year was so successful, which makes some sense. Since the numbers were so high, it would be unsustainable to continue thirty-plus percentage points above target. Note also that the severe highs and lows of reserves recruitment have not been spotted at all in Active Duty recruiting.

Let’s continue the discussion on our forum. What are your thoughts about these recruitment numbers?

Afghanistan War Logs

afghanistan_1665268cThe events that have stemmed from the recent release of secret US military files have given laypeople greater insight into what is happening in Afghanistan. There is a special Task Force, Task Force 373 – Special Forces, who are violently and possibly illegally hunting Taliban and killing civilian Afghani’s. The logs, which have been considered the biggest leak in intelligence history, comprise over 92,000 files that expose the dealings and activities of those in power. The files have been released by Wikileaks, an organization that aims to reduce corruption and create transparency in government. The leak exposes the White House’ attempts to cover up aspects of the war in Afghanistan. There are articles in the vast 92,000 files that show the government’s understanding of the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden around the time when the CIA went on record saying they knew nothing. The files also show a connection between the Pakistani government and the Afghani Taliban forces, exposing a double-sided trade in which America’s allies are supplying their enemies with arms and ammunition. The war logs also show that the American fighting forces have possibly covered up murders, including an attack by US Marines that led to the death of 19 civilians and a 2004 IED explosion that killed 50 civilians. In his first statement since the leak, President Obama has declared that, “These documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.”

By Garfield Morrison

‘Restrepo’ Movie Review

restrepo“Restrepo” is a gripping new documentary by filmmakers and journalists
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. It tells the story of a 15
soldier brotherhood that, brought together by death, overcomes their
losses to build one of the strongest outposts in the Korengal Valley,
Afghanistan. OP Restrepo becomes the name of the camp after Juan
“Doc.” Restrepo, a medic, is killed in one of their early battles.

Audiences see what the soldiers see as they go out each day in an
unfamiliar and treacherous region. The soldiers’ feelings and emotions
really come through the entire film. We see how close these men have
become after going through and losing so much.

Though they are defending their country the soldiers are taken by the
thrill of war. The soldiers enjoy a freshly prepared cow at the
expense of Afghani elders and when the elders approach the soldiers
regarding the death of their cow they are not offered any monetary
repayment, instead the soldiers offer the men dry food the weight of
the cow.

Overall, Restrepo shows the lives of soldiers at war with no editorial
commentary, no interruptions and no narration. What the film gives
audiences is an open-eyed look at a year in the lives of 15 of the
members of Battle Company 173rd Airborne stationed in the “Deadliest
Place on Earth.”

For more on ‘Restrepo’ click here.

Reviewed by Garfield Morrison

Salutes for Graduates Who’ll Be Saluting Soon

The New York Times highlights students who have opted for a military career after high school in Winnie Hu’s article, “Salutes for Graduates Who’ll Be Saluting Soon.”

Do you think students who choose to enlist should be honored specially at their graduation? Post your thoughts in the forum.

Army Experience Recruitment Center Shutting its Doors

Yesterday the Army announced that it will be shutting down the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia’s Franklin Mills Mall. The center, which opened in August of 2008 will be closing its doors on July 31st. Throughout it’s 2 years, the center has welcomed over 40,000 visitors and enlisted 236 new recruits. Read the full story here.

American Deaths in Afghanistan Passes 1,000

The New York Times reports today that the death toll of Americans in Afghanistan has now passed the 1,000 mark. It took nearly seven years to reach the 500 mark, but with a resurgent Taliban active the war has now killed another 500 Americans in fewer than two years. Read the full story here

‘The Recruiter’ Travels to D.C.

Propeller Films Education Coordinator, Sheila Sundar, has been working with students in Washington D.C.’s Wilson High School.  The students represent a diverse range of backgrounds and opinions on the subjects of war, recruitment, and enlistment.  Forthcoming footage captures conversations among students and their teacher, long-time peace activist Colman McCarthy, as well as a discussion with the school’s JROTC coordinator.

Some students described the positive role that the military can play in young people’s lives.  Others spoke in favor of a more
comprehensive definition of national service, including the Peace Corps and Americorps, arguing that peace organizing has been left out of the curricula and push to reach young people.  One student argued, “(The Recruiter) helped me understand that people may join the U.S. military because they feel it is their only option, but I want them to see that there are other options and ways to serve your country.”


‘The Recruiter’ Receives The Alfred I. DuPont Award

Picture 3In 2009, “The Recruiter” was honored to receive the Alfred I. DuPont Award for excellence in distinguished public service from The Journalism School at Columbia University. The award goes to filmmakers who capture history as it happens and aims to promote social awareness.

New Army Recruiting Station Near Ground Zero

Today in New York City there was a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new Army recruiting station that will cover recruiting in Lower Manhattan. The station, close to where the World Trade Center was, is run by Staff Sgt. Juan P. Castillo. The New York Times article about the station (which you can read here) mentions a few interesting things about the style of the station, namely that there is “soft lighting,” “tone-on-tone carpeting,” and no big Uncle Sam posters.

Fort Hood Shooting

Yesterday, Thursday November 5th, someone opened fire at Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, a large Texas military base. News reports say that 13 people were killed and that the suspect in the shooting is Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Reports vary about his motive. As investigations continue you can find thorough coverage of the news here.

‘The Recruiter’ Travels to Memphis

Read about The Recruiter education coordinator Sheila Sundar’s recent trip to a high school in Memphis, Tennessee, on The Fledgling Fund’s website. She is currently traveling the country and bringing the film and its accompanying curriculum into high school classrooms. If you are interested in having her come to your school please email us at

The Military as a Path to Citizenship

Los Angeles has joined New York in hosting a pilot program to attract foreign recruits with specific skills to the Army, in exchange for a path to citizenship. It used to be that only citizens or permanent residents who carry green cards were eligible to join the armed forces, but under this new program immigrants are eligible to serve if they have specific language or medical skills even if they are only in the US on a temporary visa or as a refugee or asylum seeker. Since the program launched foreign recruits have included 34 healthcare experts and 385 people who speak languages such as Arabic, Polish and Swahili.

Read the full article here

New Army Plans for Mental Health

About one-fifth of troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have mental health problems, according to the New York Times. To help address this the military has introduced a new training program that teaches techniques developed with the help of psychologists. Soon all 1.1 million of the Army’s soldiers will be required to undergo the intensive training.

Read the full article here

New Targets for Recruitment

According to the New York Times, only 83% of US Army enlistments in
2008 obtained a high school diploma.  In this new era of combat, the
Army is now launching a campaign to attract not only soldiers, but
officers.  The Army is hoping to recruit a new group of college
graduates to serve as soldiers towards the top of the military

Read the full article at

Support Our Troops: A Book Review

In “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent,” Marjorie Cohn and Kathleen Gilberd analyse how “the enemy” mentality permeates into the minds of American soldiers on all fronts. In this review, Truthout’s Leslie Thatcher posits that “Rules” adeptly explains how the military has troubled its own with mixed morals beginning in basic training and continuing through opposition after service.

Read Leslie Thatcher’s full article at

Suspect pleads not guilty in recruitment center shooting

A Muslim convert who said he was against the U.S. military pleaded not guilty Tuesday to capital murder in connection with the shooting of two soldiers outside an Arkansas recruiting center. One soldier died in the attack Monday, police said.

Read William M. Welch’s full article in USA TODAY.

Military recruiting faces a budget cut

Citing the Pentagon’s recent success in meeting its manpower needs, the Obama administration is proposing to cut the Defense Department’s budget for recruiting by nearly $800 million, or 11 percent, for 2010. The proposed budget would reverse years of increased spending aimed at bolstering military forces strained by six years of combat in Iraq and nearly eight in Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2008, annual funding for recruiting and retention programs more than doubled, from $3.4 billion to $7.7 billion.

Read Steve Vogel’s full article in The Washington Post.

Army extends immigrant recruiting

…10 Los Angeles-area Army recruiting offices will begin taking applications from some foreigners who are here on temporary visas or who have been granted asylum. In all, the pilot program, which was launched in New York in February, seeks to enlist 1,000 military recruits with special language and medical skills, most of whom will join the Army. Response to the program has exceeded expectations, drawing applications from more than 7,000 people around the country, many of them highly educated, defense officials said.

Read Alex and ra Zavis and Andrew Becker’s full article in The Los Angeles Times.

Why are Army recruiters killing themselves?

TIME Magazine

TIME Magazine

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now the longest waged by an all-volunteer force in U.S. history. Even as soldiers rotate back into the field for multiple and extended tours, the Army requires a constant supply of new recruits. But the patriotic fervor that led so many to sign up after 9/11 is now eight years past. That leaves recruiters with perhaps the toughest, if not the most dangerous, job in the Army. Last year alone, the number of recruiters who killed themselves was triple the overall Army rate. Like posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, recruiter suicides are a hidden cost of the nation’s wars.

Read Mark Thompson’s full article in Time Magazine.

More Americans joining military as jobs dwindle

As the number of jobs across the nation dwindles, more Americans are joining the military, lured by a steady paycheck, benefits and training.

Read Jeff Swensen’s full article in The New York Times.

U.S. Army recruiting at the mall with video games

Departing from the recruiting environment of metal tables and uniformed soldiers in a drab military building, the Army has invested $12 million in a facility that looks like a cross between a hotel lobby and a video arcade… Potential recruits can hang out on couches and listen to rock music that fills the space.

Read Jon Hurdle’s full article for Reuters.

America’s child soldiers: US military recruiting children to serve in the Armed Forces

In violation of its pledge to the United Nations not to recruit children into the military, the Pentagon “regularly target(s) children under 17,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says. The Pentagon “heavily recruits on high school campuses, targeting students for recruitment as early as possible and generally without limits on the age of students they contact,” the ACLU states in a 46-page report titled “Soldiers of Misfortune.” … Pentagon recruiters are enrolling children as young as 14 in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in 3,000 middle-, junior-, and high schools nationwide, causing about 45 percent of the quarter of million students so enrolled to enlist, a rate much higher than in the general student population. Clearly, this is the outcome of underage exposure.

Read Sherwood Ross’s full article for Global Research

Dumb and dumber

The percentage of what the Army calls “high-quality” recruits—those who have high-school diplomas and who score in the upper 50th percentile on the Armed Forces’ aptitude tests—has declined from 56.2 percent in 2005 to 44.6 percent in 2007.

Read Fred Kaplans full article for Slate.

Military recruiters are seeing better days

The economic downturn could make it easier to attract new recruits to the military, Defense officials said Friday as they announced that the Pentagon had met its 2008 recruiting goals. Economic uncertainty and a declining job market are likely to make potential recruits and their parents more receptive to a pitch from the military, said David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness… In all, 185,000 people joined the active-duty military and 140,000 signed up for the reserves, the most since 2003.

Read Julian E. Barnes’ full article for The Los Angeles Times

Yale Law yields on military recruiters

Yale Law School will end its policy of not working with military recruiters following a court ruling this week that jeopardized about $300 million in federal funding, school officials said … Yale and other universities had objected to the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows gay men and women to serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation to themselves. Yale Law School had refused to assist military recruiters because the Pentagon wouldn’t sign a nondiscrimination pledge.

Read the full article in The Los Angeles Times.

Interesting Facts

Did you know:

  • More than 44% of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas.
  • You are 22% more likely to join the Army if living in America’s most sparsely populated zip codes.
  • 40% of enlistees come from the South, 24% from the West.
  • The top 20 counties for Army recruiting all have lower-than-national median incomes.
  • In 2006, the Army spent $353 million in enlistment bonuses, $583 million on recruiting and advertising, and $700 million on pay and benefits for recruiters.
  • The proportion of new Army recruits with high school diplomas dropped to 87% in 2005 and 81% in 2006. Before the Iraq war began more than 90% of Army recruits graduated high school.