RUTLAND – Castleton State College senior Matt Kimball should have been studying for class during the waning hours of a cool September afternoon in Vermont’s second largest city — but he wasn’t. Instead, Kimball, among roughly 15 other anti-war activists from the area, including members of SPARC, the Student Peace Alliance of Rutland County, took to the streets of Rutland on Sept. 17 as part of National Truth in Recruiting Day.
Opponents of the Iraq War protested outside military recruiting facilities across the country, denouncing the military’s attempts to recruit young adults from college and high school campuses.
Although the protest was taking place on a national level, few people in attendance had heard about it until just a few days beforehand.
“To be honest, we didn’t know there was a counter-recruiting day,” said SPARC organizer Diana Bessette. “But because we [SPARC] do go into schools and counter-recruit, we thought maybe we should come. We’re happy to be here.”
Local war protestors lined up across the sidewalk just outside the recruitment center, which is sandwiched between a Japanese restaurant and an investment company in Rutland’s North End Plaza. They carried signs that read “Books Not Bombs,” banged loudly on drums, and waved happily to the numerous cars that sped by blasting their horns in agreement.
“It’s been great. I haven’t got one nasty reply,” Kimball said in response to the reactions of the passersby. “That token guy with the N.R.A. sticker going ‘nuke ’em all’ — I haven’t heard that at all.”
One activist held a sign that read “free brainwash,” a reference to his view that the military is out to “manipulate the minds” of the underprivileged youth of America, bribing them away from school with dreams of a free education and giant paychecks.
“F—-n’ A! You hand ’em free pencils and you hand ’em free shit, they’re gonna get interested,” he said, as his .50 caliber bullet belt clung loosely around his hips.
“They’re [students] looking for anything to go on, you know, and if someone offers them money they’re gonna f—-n’ take it,” he said.
But money is also a reason why the military is allowed to use schools as a means of enlisting new recruits. Inside the recruitment center itself, three army recruiters, dressed in full camouflage uniforms, took time to put things in perspective for the protestors.
“That’s why the schools can’t get rid of us, because we give so much aide to them,” U.S. Army Sergeant Hoffman said, as a photo of his loved ones sat behind him on his office bookcase. “Unless every school decided they were going to stop accepting federal aide, there’s nothing they [protestors] can do about it.”
“Everything we do is mandated by Congress,” Staff Sergeant Dave Farmer said. Farmer also noted the irony in the fact the very politicians who the protestors voted for are the same people who grant the military recruiting access in schools.
When asked about one activist’s “brainwash” theory, Hoffman smiled kindly and offered his own explanation.
“Of the 90 some personnel that I’ve put in and made soldiers, never once did I lie to my people,” he said. “I don’t have to lie to do my job.”
Hoffman stated that everything he says to applicants is backed in writing. Never once has one of his recruits asked to pull out of their contract. He also mentioned a program that many people are unaware of, which only applies to college students. It allows current college students who enlist a “guaranteed stability” for a minimum of three years before being deployed. It also covers the costs of college tuition.
“We’re all about college. We’re all about school,” he said. “We can’t take you if you don’t have an education.”
According to Hoffman, reception towards recruiters at schools, and from the public in general, is mostly positive. For every one person who doesn’t support the Army there are at least 20 more who do, he said. He does agree, however, that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Farmer again addressed another irony, this time regarding the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He found it interesting that a group of protestors who were exercising their own right to free speech would try to silence the Army from voicing its own.
“This is the very thing that we defend, the very thing that we protect,” Farmer said. “Why would I go out there and give them a debate?”
“What we do as soldiers gives them the freedom to do what they do,” Hoffman said. “Basically they’re just out there making a mockery of themselves.”
Staff Sgt. Jason Glebe spoke briefly about why he believes activists make such an effort to protest issues that he believes they don’t fully understand.
“They just want to have some meaning, some feeling of actually doing something big,” Glebe said. “But the world isn’t the happy place they think it is.”
“These two big oceans we have on either side of us don’t protect us as much as they used to,” he said.