Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Grieving father fights recruiters targeting US' poorest

AFP , ESCONDIDO, CALIFORNIA

Over his objections, his son joined the army and died in Iraq in 2003. Now Fernando Suarez is spearheading a crusade to stop the recruitment of young, financially vulnerable Hispanics into the US military.

"We have to stop military recruiters from harassing these boys at school, and if any of them want to sign up, they should do so out of their own free will, not because of economic and psychological pressures or even lies," Suarez said.

Suarez got together with school teachers, student unions and veterans groups to create the Aztec Warrior Project to raise awareness among young Hispanics and to take on the Pentagon.

The anti-recruitment activists are also watching a bill proposed in the US Congress that would extend permanent residency to the sons of illegal aliens who either attend two years of university or sign up for two years with the military.

Under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, they would attain US citizenship after six years of conditional status or if they die in combat.

The measure has the full backing of the Pentagon, which is finding it hard to keep its recruitment goals during the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Hispanics are the perfect cannon fodder, and signing up for military service is much easier than going to university, which is for rich people," Suarez said.

As he celebrated his son Jesus' would-be 25th birthday, Suarez said he would forever regret he could not talk him out of joining the Marines.

"The arguments put forth by the recruiters were very good: opportunities for professional development, helping your family along [financially] and a path to citizenship," Suarez said.

He said that after signing up, Jesus quickly found out that he hadn't been told the whole truth.

Jorge Mariscal, who heads the Chicano and Latino Studies Department at the University of California at San Diego, said recruitment efforts target "public schools with Hispanic or black majorities."

Mariscal, an activist with the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, known as YANO, also refuted US official jargon that Hispanics are "proud and honored" to serve in the military.

"That's a total lie. Recruitment efforts in the United States target the most vulnerable classes," he said.

Suarez said when he asked to see his son's body after it was shipped back from Iraq, the Pentagon refused, telling him his face had been blown apart in combat.

After hounding the soldiers guarding Jesus' casket at a cemetery, Suarez got them to open it, finding that his son's face was intact, but that his extremities had been blown off. He is still battling the Pentagon to get a full explanation of how his son died.

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