Peace Corps Option for Military Recruits Sparks Concerns
- From: Kenneth Hill [mailto:kenhill@...]
Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 12:31 PM
To: NPCA Group Leaders
Subject: Getting Up To Date on the Military Recruitment issue...
Dear Colleagues, please know that NPCA is well out front on this
Since this "new" military recruitment program was noted in a very
brief Washington Post article on May 13, we have been working to
learn the facts, dialogue with Peace Corps, develop an effective
strategy and inform our community! The issue has been featured on
the website since May, noted in newsletters and in the Chair's
report for the Annual General Meeting. The Post article of
yesterday features NPCA prominently as a primary source and key
player on the issue
For many more details and a chronology, please check out the NCPA
website (www.rpcv.org) which provides pertinent communications
(including our letter of several weeks ago to the Peace Corps
Director and his response). Yesterday afternoon the public
broadcasting program "Marketplace" featured an interview with the
correspondent who wrote the Post article and this morning Kevin was
a panel guest on the nationwide "Democracy Now" program of Pacifica
Radio. Both of these interviews reinforced our position on this
issue. We anticipate more media opportunities and coverage.
You should know that last week both the NPCA Board of Directors and
Advisory Council agreed that this was an important issue for Peace
Corps and for NPCA and confirmed that we should address it
Our goal is to have Peace Corps excluded from this military
recruitment program. We are now revising our strategy in
consideration of the Post article and will communicate regularly
with Group Leaders and our community.
As we go forward, we'll suggest ways that the groups and individual
members may impact the resolution of this issue.
Finally, I want to emphasize a point we made in our initial letter
to the Director of the Peace Corps. " the National Peace Corps
Association honors those who serve America in the U.S. Armed
Services, and notes that many have served our nation both in the
military and as Peace Corps volunteers or staff. Our opposition to
a linkage between Peace Corps and U.S. Military service is in no way
intended to denigrate U. S. military service. Our serious concerns
relate to the well-being of the Peace Corps; the ability of Peace
Corps Volunteers to do their job effectively and in an environment
conducive to their good health and safety."
Stay tuned and please take the opportunity to peruse the information
on the NPCA web site.
Ken Hill, NPCA Chair
Peace Corps Option for Military Recruits Sparks Concerns
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 2, 2005; A11
The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is
offering to allow recruits to meet part of their military
obligations by serving in the Peace Corps, which has resisted any
ties to the Defense Department or U.S. intelligence agencies since
its founding in 1961.
The recruitment program has sparked debate and rising opposition
among current and former Peace Corps officials. Some welcome it as a
way to expand the cadre of idealistic volunteers created by
President John F. Kennedy. But many say it could lead to suspicions
abroad that the Peace Corps, which has 7,733 workers in 73
countries, is working together with the U.S. armed forces.
"Does this raise red flags for the Peace Corps community? I'd say
yes -- emphatically so," said Kevin Quigley, president of the
National Peace Corps Association, an organization of returned
volunteers, staff and supporters. "We think a real or perceived
linkage between the Peace Corps and military service could damage
the Peace Corps and potentially put the safety of Peace Corps
volunteers at risk."
Congress authorized the recruitment program three years ago in
legislation that drew little attention at the time but is stirring
controversy now, for two reasons: The military has begun to promote
it, and the day is drawing closer when the first batch of about
4,300 recruits will be eligible to apply to the Peace Corps, after
having spent 3 1/2 years in the armed forces. That could happen as
early as 2007.
Two longtime proponents of national service programs, Sens. John
McCain (R-Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), devised the legislation "to
provide Americans with more opportunities to serve their country,"
said Bayh's spokeswoman, Meghan Keck. When it stalled as a separate
bill, aides to the senators said, they folded it into a 306-page
defense budget bill, where it did not attract opposition.
Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez, who was appointed in 2002 by
President Bush, said in a recent interview that the Peace Corps was
unaware of the provision until after it became law. Vasquez declined
to say whether he would have opposed the legislation, had he known
about it in time.
"There might have been a discussion, there could have been some
dialogue on this, but obviously that didn't happen," he said.
Several former Peace Corps leaders said they hope that Congress and
the Bush administration will reverse course and scuttle the program.
They include former senator Harris Wofford (D-Pa.), who helped found
the Peace Corps as a young aide in the Kennedy White House; Carol
Bellamy, the former New York City Council president who headed the
Peace Corps from 1993 to 1995; and Mark L. Schneider, who was a
volunteer in El Salvador in the late 1960s and headed the Peace
Corps during the last two years of the Clinton administration.
"Democratic and Republican administrations alike have kept a bright
line separating the Peace Corps from short-term foreign and security
policies," Schneider said. "Blurring that sharp line is a bad idea,
particularly now, given the unfortunate rise in anti-American
sentiment following the Iraq war."
After the law went into effect in 2003, the Defense Department was
slow to promote the option of combining military and Peace Corps
service, but it is now energetically flogging the "National Call to
Service" program, recruiters said. The Army, which began a pilot
project in 10 of its 41 recruiting districts in October 2003,
expanded it into a nationwide effort this year. The Air Force, Navy
and Marines offer identical programs, said Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a
In all of the services, recruits are eligible for a $5,000 cash
bonus or repayment of $18,000 in student loans if they agree to
spend three months in boot camp, 15 months on active duty and two
years in the Reserves or National Guard.
After that, they can fulfill the remainder of their eight-year
military obligation in the Individual Ready Reserves -- available
for call-up, but without regular drilling duties -- or by serving in
the Peace Corps or Americorps, the domestic national service program
created in 1993.
Vasquez emphasized that recruits have no guarantee that they will be
accepted into the Peace Corps. Once they complete their active duty
and Reserve or National Guard service, they can apply to the Corps.
But they will not receive any preferential treatment, and the Peace
Corps is not changing its admission standards, he said.
"Ultimately, the impact to Peace Corps in terms of how we recruit,
who we accept into service, remains very much intact and consistent
with what we've done for 40-plus years," the Peace Corps director
said. "I am an individual who embraces a very important facet of
Peace Corps, and that is the Peace Corps' independence as an agency
within the executive branch."
Wofford, who worked in the White House with Sargent Shriver, the
Kennedy brother-in-law who became the Peace Corps' first director,
said the Corps historically has shown "passionate determination" to
maintain that independence. At the outset in 1961, Shriver appealed
to Kennedy to keep the Peace Corps from being placed under the
Agency for International Development. Later, the Corps fought to
uphold rules barring intelligence officers from joining the Peace
Corps and prohibiting former Peace Corps volunteers from working for
U.S. intelligence agencies.
Several current Peace Corps volunteers said they opposed the
military recruitment option but were reluctant to speak out
publicly, because the Peace Corps forbids volunteers from talking to
the media without permission.
"We are already accused on a daily basis of being CIA agents so I
don't see how this [link to the U.S. military] could help," a
volunteer in Burkina Faso said by e-mail.
"It is hard enough trying to integrate yourself into a completely
different culture, convincing people that . . . Americans are not
these gun-toting sex maniacs . . . without having a connection to
the U.S. military," another volunteer in Africa wrote.
Former volunteers expressed a variety of reservations. Pat Reilly, a
former chairwoman of the National Peace Corps Association who served
in Liberia from 1972 to 1975 and spent several years as a full-time
Peace Corps recruiter, said she worries about the motivation of
people who enter the Peace Corps to fulfill a military service
"The magic that makes the Peace Corps work is motivation, and when
you tinker with that, then it won't work for the applicant and it
won't work for the people it serves," she said.
John Coyne, who served in Ethiopia during the 1960s and was a
regional director in the Corps' New York office from 1996 to 2001,
said numerous military veterans have joined the Peace Corps and been
superb volunteers. But he said there has always been a "clear
separation" between the two kinds of service. The new recruitment
program "eats away at the purity of the Peace Corps as designed by
Kennedy, which is that it was not going to be military," he said.
So far, the number of enlistees is tiny compared with the 1.4
million men and women serving in the military, but large compared
with the Peace Corps, which receives about 12,000 applications to
fill about 4,000 openings each year.
In 2004 and the first five months of this year, 4,301 people entered
the armed services under the National Call to Service program. Of
those, 2,935 enlisted in the Navy, 614 in the Air Force, 444 in the
Army and 308 in the Marines. Pentagon and Peace Corps officials said
they have no way of knowing how many will apply to the Peace Corps
when they become eligible to do so in 2007 or 2008.
In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush called for doubling the
size of the Peace Corps, from 7,000 to 14,000 volunteers, within
five years. That same year, the administration named a career Navy
officer with 12 years of experience in military recruiting to head
the Peace Corps' recruitment and selection office.
Since then, however, the Corps has grown by little more than 10
percent. Barbara Daly, a spokeswoman for the Corps, said that tight
budgets -- rather than a shortage of qualified candidates -- were
"The president has been very supportive of the Peace Corps and has
requested budget increases each fiscal year that would allow for
this" gradual doubling, she said. "Congress has not approved our
budget at the levels requested by the president."