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Peace Corps Option for Military Recruits Sparks Concerns

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  • lynnportz
    From: Kenneth Hill [mailto:kenhill@verizon.net] Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 12:31 PM To: NPCA Group Leaders Subject: Getting Up To Date on the Military
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4 8:18 AM
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      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
      issue!



      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
      aggressively.



      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. "Â…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.



      Thanks!



      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
      Pentagon spokeswoman.

      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
      obligation.

      "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 reason.

      "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."
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