Unnending casualties in an increasingly unpopular, illegal war prompt parrents and school administrators to say no to military aptitude tests.
Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, military recruiters had no trouble getting New England high schools to offer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which is used to screen promising candidates. But three years later, in the midst of a controversial war in Iraq, things have changed dramatically.
“It’s much more difficult right now to get into schools,” said Petty Officer Jason Lowe, ASVAB testing coordinator at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Boston, which handles enlistment processing for Rhode Island, much of New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts.
“People aren’t happy, I guess,” he said. “They just don’t like the military in there right now with everything going on in the world. It makes it real tough.”
Administrators at Nashua High School North this year reversed a long-standing policy of giving the three-hour test to the entire junior class, which usually numbers around 500.
Principal R. Patrick Corbin said an increasing number of students were opting not to take the test; 60 parents last year sent in letters to exempt their children from taking the test. And another 100 students schoolwide were absent on testing day, he estimated.
“I know the recruiters are under great pressure and I know there’s a war going on, and they’re trying to recruit people, but you can see the attitude of many parents and students has dramatically changed towards this thing,” he said.
Lowe said his office has changed its approach in selling the program to schools. “Really, we try to leave the military everything out of it,” he said. “We pretty much focus on that it’s a career exploration program that we’re doing for the schools. Which is what it is.”
But that approach makes some uneasy.
Corbin believes some of those promoting the test to New Hampshire schools “have probably been disingenuous about the test.”
“They clearly gave the impression they weren’t doing this to recruit people into the armed forces, that that wasn’t the motivation behind the test.”
But he said, “I believe they obviously were.”
Military officials say they do use the test results in recruiting calls. Lowe said information from the test is entered into a database, where it is kept for two years, and used by recruiters to discuss possible military occupations with students who’ve taken the test.
Master Sgt. Blake Trimarco, the Army liaison at the Boston military station, said the scores are used to generate “leads” for recruiters. He said students who score at the 50th percentile or above on the qualifying section of the test, will be the “priority” calls.