'Counter-recruiter' wants same access as military at high school

Theresa Knapp Enos

Some call it counter-recruitment.

Ray Ajemian prefers to call it “truth in advertising.”

Whatever the terminology, the question of whether the Bridgewater-Raynham schools in Raynham, Mass., should allow anti-war groups equal access to students as military recruiters will be taken up Wednesday at a meeting of the Counter Recruitment Subcommittee.

The meeting will take place at the LaLiberte Elementary School in Raynham.

Ajemian, 66, a member of Bridgewater-based Citizens for an Informed Community, an anti-war group, wants permission to set up a table in the high school hallway — just as military recruiters do — to educate students who are thinking about entering the armed forces.

He was granted permission last spring by the high school principal, but that was overturned by the district’s then-director of business services Joseph Delude and then-Supt. George Guasconi, both of whom have since retired.

Subcommittee members who will discuss the matter Wednesday include Joseph Gillis Jr. and Patricia Leighton of Bridgewater, and Stephen M. Donohue of Raynham.

Gillis said the subcommittee will gather information this week to make a presentation to the full School Committee which will then address the district’s policy on the issue.

While Ajemian argues the school district has a requirement to protect the rights of the students and provide them with pros and cons about joining the military, Gillis says, “There’s also a bigger requirement that we’re part of a country, and the military is a major part of what makes the United States what it is.”

Gillis noted that an Internet search for “counter-recruiting” produced some extreme results, many of which appear to be anti-military.

“We’re not opposed to the military,” said Ajemian. “We’re only asking that (high school students and parents) have free knowledge and that they make that decision based on that knowledge … It’s the fair thing to do.”

Nationally, counter-recruiters ranging from Vietnam War veterans to high school students formed a network at meetings in Philadelphia in the summers of 2003 and 2004, according to a March 2005 article in USA Today. The American Friends Service Committee has even prepared a brochure titled, “Do You Know Enough to Enlist?” deliberately designed to look like a military recruiting brochure, according to the article.

Counter-recruiters have gained access to the Los Angeles Unified School District, while in San Francisco, members of a group called the Raging Grannies visit high schools to offer political buttons, talk to students who are choosing whether to go into the military, and sing peace songs and dance.

Besides the tables, Ajemian also wants to spread the word among parents that they can choose not to have their student’s personal information provided to the government for military recruiting purposes, and that high school students are not required to take the Army Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test to see if they are well-suited to serve in the country’s armed forces.

Ajemian says his group seeks only to provide both sides of the story. He notes that he served in the armed forces during the Vietnam era (providing training, not on the front lines) and says that he had a good military experience, but others do not.

His group seeks to provide teenagers with an arsenal of information including relevant questions for military recruiters.

“Students have to be fully aware, that’s all,” says Ajemian. “All we’re asking is to let us give the other side and let (students) make up their own mind.”