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02-07-03, 10:03 PM
Staff Sgt. Velma Togiola yells the cadence to educators from Georgia and Louisiana as they march to the next demonstration at boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., last week.

That's message educators get at Marine Corps boot camp

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Kenyetta Kendrick stares out the window at marshes as the bus carrying her and 72 other Georgia and Louisiana educators heads toward the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C.

"It's too early," Kendrick says, just before 7 a.m. "Physical training for me is getting up. I ain't feeling this."

The Marine Corps hopes that eventually she will.

It's offering an all-expenses-paid taste of boot camp so that educators will promote the military as enthusiastically as they sell the promise of a college degree.

Armed with a new and little-known federal mandate that gives recruiters access to the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the nation's high school students, all four branches of the military have stepped up efforts to compete with colleges and businesses.

But some parents worry the military is turning classrooms into recruiting offices, especially with a war with Iraq looming.

"I think that's reprehensible. It's just propaganda," said Roy Patterson, whose 14-year-old daughter attends North Atlanta High School. "And that's what you're going to get when you send a group of educators to Parris Island. They don't expect them to come back with a negative report."

Kendrick, who teaches history at Atlanta's Southside High School, will have to be sold on the idea.

"I want to know the real deal," she says.

The bus barely slows in front of the recruit processing center before it is swarmed by a group of drill instructors.

"Get off my bus, right now!" screams Staff Sgt. Jason Webb. "Eyes forward. You will only speak when spoken to."

Marietta High School Assistant Principal Shantay Souter rolls her eyes.

"He told me to close my mouth," she says, incredulously.

The dressing-down the teachers get is just a sample of what recruits go through in their first days at Parris Island, just south of the steamy coastal town of Beaufort.

The educators will spend the week shooting rifles, climbing ropes and eating in the mess hall. They choke on riot gas as they watch -- through a window -- recruits learn to use a gas mask. Even from outside the building the gas burns their eyes.

The group stays in a hotel nearby, but rises each day at the crack of dawn to be fed and bused to the base where they participate in a few recruit activities. Mostly they tour the island -- marching in unison, most in Marine-issued camouflage jackets -- and listen to instructors describe aspects of Marine training.

The teachers, counselors, school board members, principals and other administrators are guests of the Marine Corps, which sends invitations to high schools each year. The corps spent about $20,000 to fly them in and host them for four days.

"It's a small amount compared to some of the other advertising we pay for," said Col. Thomas Gregory, commander of Marine Corps 6th District. "For the investment we get, we get a pretty good return."

Gregory can't say how many recruits have been gained as a result of the teacher trips to Parris Island. He says the value of the program is measured by the number of educators who participate. Marines bring about 80 teachers to Parris Island four times a year.

"In the market we target, educators are the most influential," he said.

Don Edwards, an organizer with Interfaith Atlanta Coalition for Justice and Peace in the World, objects to the program precisely because teachers are so influential.

"They're utilizing teachers and all the tools to impress upon youngsters to feed that machine, just like the tobacco companies used Joe Camel," Edwards said. "This is just another way for the military to market militarism to youngsters in an indirect way. It's time for that to change."

National database

Chenedra Corbin, a counselor at Marietta High School, fires an M-16 rifle at targets a few hundred yards away. She hits few of them. "It was fun, though."

She says the military is a fine option for some students. But she doesn't like the No Child Left Behind act's provision that forces school systems to turn over students' personal information.

"If someone shows an interest in the military, then that's OK," she says. "But if you want somebody's information, I don't think that's right. That's supposed to be confidential."

Officials with metro Atlanta's school systems say they've received few complaints from parents about the little-noticed provision.

Parents who know about the law can have the information withheld, but few do.

Fulton and Clayton county schools systems include the law on their Web sites, but don't mention the military's access to student information. Fulton County schools sent parents a waiver form before Christmas, but school officials say they don't know how many were returned.

Privacy debate

Some parents were surprised to learn that information about their children was given to recruiters. "I didn't even know about it," says Dale Bowen, president of the DeKalb Parent Teacher Association Council. "Privacy is a big issue with parents. And there's a fine line between privacy and public information."

Confidentiality isn't the issue, Gregory says. "It really comes down to an issue of fairness. We believe we should have the same access as the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech or anyone else. We'd like to be able to know who our market is, just like any other organization."

Anne Horowitz, who has two daughters are Roswell High School, believes the military is beginning to overstep its bounds.

"We have taken great pains to protect those records," she says. "If they have your information and market to your kids directly, that's the first step toward a draft situation. I would think that would be an invasion and not the right message to send to our youth.

"That should be a choice, not a mandate," she adds. "But now it's the law."

Recruiters say a potential war in Iraq makes it tougher for them to attract students, who frequently ask about future conflict.

"But the parents are the biggest obstacle," says Staff Sgt. Patrick Sherron, a recruiter based in Duluth, during mess hall lunch. "They won't even let the kids get a chance to decide."

Andria Mocek let her son, Gabe, make his own decision last year. The 18-year-old is now in the middle of the 13-week Marine boot camp in Parris Island. She worries, but is comfortable with the choice he made.

Mocek, a former teacher from Shiloh, north of Columbus, thinks parents should be open to the idea of a military career for their children.

"I know a lot of parents are scared," she says after her last day at boot camp. "But I think the kids need to have all of their options laid out before them. And the only choice is an informed choice."

Kendrick, who turns heads by easily navigating a rope climb on an obstacle course, calls the experience an eye-opener.

"But a child should be able to make his or her own choices about what they want to do," she says.

The Drifter