Army To Fall Short of 1997 Target for JROTC

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Nearly four years into an ambitious five-year expansion of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, U.S. Department of Defense officials say there is not enough money to meet the Army's growth target for 1997.

And while the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps expect to reach their JROTC expansion goals, schools' reluctance to devote scarce local funds to the effort--as well as protests in dozens of communities--have made their job more difficult.

JROTC, a companion to the collegiate Reserve Officers' Training Corps, is designed to introduce teenagers to the military. Most of the high school programs are offered as elective courses and focus on citizenship, leadership, and military history. Some units have drill teams or air-rifle marksmanship teams.

The program also offers participants improved chances for college scholarships and appointments to the elite national military academies.

About 300,000 students in 2,400 units now participate in the program, a 60 percent increase since the expansion drive began. About 200,000 students participated in 1,460 units in 1992.

By the 1996-97 school year, the military hopes to have 2,600 units in schools nationwide. That is 300 units fewer than defense officials initially planned, because the Army has cut its target from 1,700 to 1,400 units.

Activists who oppose military-style programs on philosophical grounds say that local opposition has scuttled scores of would-be units.

"You tend to expect that the military gets what it wants," said Chris Lombardi, the spokeswoman for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in San Francisco. "That there's any resistance at all is remarkable."

In Columbia, Mo., for example, peace activists persuaded the local school board to table a JROTC program last year after they discovered that trailers had been ordered for a Navy unit at Hickman High School.

"Apparently, it will not come up again because we'd oppose it," said Charles Atkins, a retired businessman and a member of the national board of Veterans for Peace Inc.

He advocates replacing military programs with conflict-management classes.

Money Is Key

But such protests do not always succeed.

San Francisco's 1,500-student JROTC program--already under fire in a city known for its liberal politics--became especially controversial following a 1994 hazing incident in which three students ran a gantlet between lines of other youths who punched them in the arms.

A fight broke out, a student suffered hearing loss, and the three students who had been the focus of the hazing have sued the district.

In response to public protests, the district barred guns from JROTC activities beginning this fall.

However, in June, the San Francisco school board voted 4-3 against replacing JROTC with alternative activities, although opponents argued that the program discriminates against gay and disabled students.

Military officials say that money is the real obstacle to their expansion efforts. Major Robert E. Shepherd, a spokesman for the Army's JROTC program, said he had no doubt that if there were adequate funding to continue the Army's expansion, "we'd get all 1,700" planned units.

"Obviously, in my view, the reception has gone very well," Maj. Shepherd said. "When you travel about, testimonials of staff and students are very positive."

Money is a big factor at the local level, as well. Federal funding covers at least 65 percent of unit costs but schools must agree to pick up the rest. Most units are run by two retired soldiers; expenses generally include the instructors' salaries, uniforms, and books.

"As board treasurer, I couldn't in good conscience talk about spending good money in a program I had concerns about," said Sharon Peters, a member of the Lansing, Mich., school board, which voted 6-3 recently to end its program next fall. It is currently in three schools.

The Lansing program, which is two years old, enrolls 50 students--just half of the minimum enrollment number set by the military--and costs were expected to climb from $45,000 this year to $61,000 next year.

Joe Evans, the superintendent of schools in Roane County, W.V., said long-term costs and concerns about space requirements prompted a school-improvement council and a teacher group to vote against establishing a unit in the county's high school.

Targeting the At-Risk

Military officials said they do not keep track of how many schools reject JROTC contracts, but a Navy official estimated that about 20 percent of schools involved in negotiations turn the offers down, usually because of the cost, which averages about $30,000 to $45,000 per school.

The military is making efforts to address that problem, particularly in urban schools serving many at-risk students.

Indeed, the Pentagon proposed the JROTC expansion after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

"There was a feeling that American youth were generally at risk, and the services had a premier program dealing with youth," said Hans Krucke, the program manager for Navy JROTC.

The JROTC budget has risen from about $90 million in 1992 to $150 million in fiscal 1995, according to Defense Department officials.

In approving the expansion drive in 1993, Congress authorized "enhanced funding" for poor schools. Under this initiative, which currently includes 296 programs, the military covers all JROTC costs for the first three years, and 75 percent in years four and five.

Some officials say this has contributed to curtailing the expansion goals.

"The more units that get into this category, the less you have for other programs," said Major Tom Iskrzak, a program analyst in the Defense Department's office of force-management policy.

A Hit in N.Y.C.

But the extra funding has made JROTC a feasible option for some schools, like New York City's Tottenville High School, where Principal Michael Marotta deems a three-year-old Marine Corps JROTC program a big hit. Students were turned away after enrollment was capped at 178, he said.

"I thought the school needed a program where kids would get involved in leadership and community activities," Mr. Marotta said. "Each day we see kids doing much better in school, including kids we would have lost."

Lt. Col. Jim Sfayer, an instructor in the Tottenville High program, said that community outreach and the instructors' style determine a unit's success.

"The key to making it work is not to beat my chest and run around in a torn T-shirt," he said. "I don't care if the students can shoot a rifle. I care if they can lead a community clean-up."

The cost-sharing formula was also an incentive for Massabesic High School in Waterboro, Me. After delaying action in the face of community protest, the school started a Navy JROTC program this year at a cost of about $35,000.

"One of the things that I liked about it was that we could test the waters," said Ed Bull, the school's assistant principal. "If it doesn't come through, then we'll get rid of it."

Vol. 15, Issue 09

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