OP-ED | In Support of Connecticut Military Service
I write in response to Mr. Pat Elder’s Op-Ed article published in the CTNewsJunkie on April 21, 2014, regarding SB 423: An Act Concerning Student Privacy and the Administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (“ASVAB”). The ASVAB is a military aptitude test that serves as an entrance exam for the military and a means to slate potential recruits with specific jobs. SB 423 would require parental consent if the student is a minor before the student’s ASVAB score is released to military recruiters. While SB 423 is a well-intended bill, I worry it produces negative, unintended consequences for Connecticut students as well as the overall military culture.
In his Op-Ed, Mr. Elder starts by expressing his frustration that the bill was referred to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee after it was approved by a 22-10 vote in the Education Committee. As a member of the Veteran Affairs Committee, I can attest to the committee’s importance and oversight of this issue. Two legislative sessions ago, it was correctly decided to make the Veterans’ Affairs Committee a full-standing committee rather than a “select” committee. As a consequence, the Co-Chairs of the Veteran Affairs Committee can bring legislation directly to the House and Senate floors like any other full-standing committee. The committee also has a history of addressing military recruiting issues. For instance in 2013 the committee raised SB 836 which dealt with military recruiting, and also, the fact that SB 423 directly affects the military lends credence that the bill should have been referred to the committee.
Moreover, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Elder’s policy arguments regarding SB 423. My own personal military story will serve to explain my position. I was a junior in college when the tragedy of 9/11 befell on all of us. Like many in my generation, this horrific event was the catalyst that drove me to military service. At the time, a few of my classmates were becoming commissioned officers in the United States Marine Corps, and the Marine Corps Officer Program appealed to me for many reasons.
Despite my aspirations of a military commission, numerous family members and friends discouraged me from participating in the program, and I felt compelled to go to law school instead. Throughout my time in law school, I still had a burning desire to serve in the military. This yearning is what propelled me to attend the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School (“OCS”) after graduating from law school. The experience at OCS affirmed my regret in not joining the Corps before law school. Perhaps, I would have been a more focused law student after four years of Active Duty service. At the very least, my student loan debt would be much lower due because I would have taken advantage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
I mention my story because I can envision that many well-intended parents may discourage their children from joining the military as they enter adulthood post-high school. My parents did, and they now regret it. Both my parents have concluded that I greatly benefited from only four years of Active Duty service, and both encouraged me to become a reserve Marine Corps officer. I believe that passage of SB 423 would create situations in which parents’ de facto veto power over their child’s decision to pursue a military career could cause more harm. I am cognizant these students are minors, but as they transition into adulthood they should have an unfettered opportunity to pursue a future career, be it in the job market, in college or in the military.
I acknowledge that Mr. Elder does raise very valid privacy concerns, but they are red herrings. First, all males upon becoming 18 must register with the Selective Service for a potential military draft, and in doing so, their Social Security Number (“SSN”) is sent to the Department of Defense (“DOD”). Women are currently taking on more combat focused roles within the military, and I believe someday women may be compelled to register as well. Even if an underage male takes the ASVAB, their personal information is merely relayed to the DOD within a year of the compulsory registration with the Selective Service. At any rate, their SSNs eventually will make it to the DOD. Moreover, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Coleman, U.S. Army, submitted testimony to the Education Committee in which he stated that Federal and Connecticut law require high schools to submit student contact information to recruiters for all high school students in the 11th and the 12th grades.
As an administrative officer in the Marine Corps, I can also assert that recruiters and other service members tasked with compiling personnel data are trained and inspected yearly regarding privacy laws. Therefore, any service member working with personnel data is put on notice about the sensitivity of this information, and they are mandated to abide by strict procedures to protect this information.
I also worry that SB 423 would produce a slippery slope that would eventually prohibit military recruiters from visiting Connecticut high schools without parental consent. It is very common for military recruiters to give presentations and talk with high school students about the vast career options available to them in the military. I am concerned that SB 423 would be the first step in banning this important military-to-student interaction.
Finally, I believe there are some people who still harbor resentment and mistrust of the military as a consequence of the Vietnam War. I worry that this Vietnam-era distrust is imbued within SB 423, and the consequence of going forward with this bill is to further encourage discordancy between the all-volunteer force and the civilian population it protects. At the root of it all, laws like SB 423 will hurt diversity in the military. Nate Fick, a former Marine Corps officer and author of One Bullet Away, wrote about his experience in transitioning from an upper-middleclass, young Dartmouth College graduate to an infantry platoon commander. This book served as a rallying cry for a subset of male and female college students in my generation. It was a significant reason why many of us journeyed to OCS in the hopes of starting a career leading Marines. Fick — a past member of a Washington think-tank, current CEO of a security intelligence company, and member of the Council of Foreign Relations — worries that the military’s lack of socioeconomic diversity will negatively affect the military culture. He argues that the military needs smart and talented men and women from a cross-section of American communities to improve the military’s culture. I worry that SB 423 would foster more distrust of the military and would work against improving military diversity. Perhaps, a more diverse military organization would produce more prudent foreign policy decisions.
In my opinion, SB 423 only furthers the cultural divide between the all-volunteer force and the civilian population. The bill would discourage a wider cross-section of young adults from joining the military. We only have to look at the recent past when ROTC units were forced out of college campuses. I respect the proponents of the bill and their position. However, I worry that the bill would produce drastic unintended consequences.
David Alexander is the State Representative for Enfield’s 58th District. He served four years on Active Duty in the United States Marine Corps. He is currently a Captain in the Marine Corps Reserve where he serves as the Executive Officer for H&S Company with 1st Battalion, 25th Marines.