Jessica Sanchez poses an urgent threat to the US military. For a Pentagon stretched by stagnating enlistments and an Administration bent on waging a “global war on terror,” the question of whether this four-foot-eleven Mexican-born legal resident and others like her will decide to join the military has enormous geopolitical implications.
The Pentagon is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to find out whatever it can about Sanchez and other young Latinos: what they wear, where they hang out, what kinds of groups they form, what they read, what they watch on TV, their grades, their dreams. Members of the military’s numerous and well-funded recruiting commands use sophisticated Geographic Information Systems maps, souped-up recruiting Hummers and other resources to establish strategic positions in the minds, pocketbooks and neighborhoods of young Latinos like Sanchez.
Recruiters are devising new and often unexpected ways to penetrate daily Latino life. “I went to a birthday celebration at Chuck E. Cheese’s,” says Sanchez, a 25-year-old single mom from San Marcos, California, just outside San Diego. “We were watching a puppet show when all of a sudden a military song is playing in the background. I thought that was weird but kept watching. A couple of minutes later, all of us were looking at pictures on a TV screen of people in the Army giving food and supplies to kids in Iraq. My friends and I thought that was really weird–and got out.”
The bad news for Pentagon planners is not just Sanchez’s negative reaction to the puppet show, or even her eventual decision not to join the Navy. It’s that she and other Latinos who are rejecting the military’s overtures are turning around and organizing a grassroots movement against recruitment in their community.
From the northernmost corner of Washington State to the southernmost beaches of south Florida, veteran Latino counterrecruiters and younger activistas are facing off against thousands of military recruiters in a battle that will determine whether Latino youth continue echoing the “Yo soy el Army” and other Pentagon PR slogans or instead adopt the “Yo estoy en contra del Army” slogan taken up by Sanchez. The counterrecruitment movement, spearheaded by scores of Latinos in Chicago, El Paso, Tucson and other cities, suburbs and rural communities, is largely occurring beneath the radar of the mostly white antiwar movement, despite its potential to alter the course of Iraq and future US wars.
“Latinos are very important to the national security of the United States,” says Larry Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics in the Reagan Administration Defense Department, where he administered about 70 percent of the largest line items in the federal budget. “A decrease in Latino enlistment numbers would make things very difficult for the armed forces, because they are the fastest-growing [minority] group in the country and they have a very distinguished record of service in the military. If I were Donald Rumsfeld, I would be very worried about the possibility of decreasing Latino numbers. I’d be thinking about how to make do with smaller numbers of troops or with further lowering standards for aptitude, age, education and other factors.”