Slurry Beta

Infrequent ruminations on nothing.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Rural America Disappoints Me

This week’s (perhaps month’s) topic is serious. Sorry folks, I know you like to read and laugh but I’m not just some monkey that hangs around for your own personal amusement. You can’t just put a quarter in my ass and watch me dance around, juggle bowling pins, and feed you popcorn and salt water taffy. (That one’s for you, Sean. I know how much you miss my monkey rant) I have a serious/thoughtful side, too, although much like the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker it is rarely seen and the only real evidence is a muddled recording of its distinctive warble. Also, like seeing the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, it has been known to bring Ornithologists and other nerds to tears.

On with the post…

The Washington Post published an article today reporting that, according to the National Priorities Project, 44 percent of new military recruits come from rural areas. Strikingly, four of the top ten counties with the highest recruitment rates are in Montana with Madison Country checking in at number eight with 12.5 recruits per 1,000 people age 18-24 (Mineral County, MT came in at #1). Some of you may not know this*, but I was born and raised in Madison County, Montana (Ennis) and am quite proud of my cow tipping, meth snorting, marry-your-sister heritage. While it doesn’t surprise me that such a high rate of Montanans are entering the military, it does concern and irritate me.

Among the nation, Montana ranks 24th in SAT scores, fifth in ACT scores, but 48th in income. These kids aren’t stupid, they’re poor and isolated. When you grow up in a family where your dad pulls in $35,000 from the state, your mom doesn’t work, and the most you’ve ever been paid is 10 bucks an hour to sort through scrap wood at a construction site, a 30-40k military contract with 30 days paid leave and a chance to get the hell out of Alberton, Montana starts to look pretty good. Before you know it, you’re traveling the globe and flying a helicopter while a guitar solo wails in the background. Actually, it’s more like traveling to central Texas, driving a around in a jeep and listening to Tim McGraw or Alan Jackson while some meathead punches your service medals into your chest.

My old “guidance counselor’s” office was like a military recruiting 7-11, you go in for some bottled water and before you know it, you leave with a cheeseburger stick and a foot long chili-lime zester. I swear kids would go into that office, some dude in a flat-top would show them a video and tell them their ASVAB** scores meant they could be a nuclear physicist in the Navy. Contract signed. The counselor didn’t give a damn-he would just hand out any old crap the military sent him. Even in grade school we all had Navy rulers, Army pencils, and ROTC calendars that recruiters would hand out. Come to think of it, the entire class sat down to take the ASVAB during regular school hours, which is completely ridiculous.

But what does the counselor care? Montana teachers' salaries are among the lowest in the nation so it’s not like he went to Yale and sees the overwhelming benefit of a great secondary education. It was basically conventional wisdom that any other college than a state school is too expensive. You would have to get the Women’s Club, Lion’s Club, and the Diane Petroni Memorial scholarships just to pay for a plane ticket out of the state to visit schools. The Holy Grail was the full-ride state university scholarship given to the valedictorian or salutatorian of any Montana public school. But if your grandma isn’t in the Women’s club (it’s a $250 scholarship anyway) and you’re not one of the two people at the top of the class, you’re on your own. If your guidance counselor and parents don’t understand the concept of endowments and financial aid, then you’re really on your own and should start perfecting your bed making techniques. They bounce quarters off that shit.

*If you don’t know this, you haven’t been around me for more than two minutes and shouldn’t be reading this deeply personal blog.

**The ASVAB is a military recruiting test that allows recruiters to evaluate your ability to recognize what an engine looks like and to quickly copy data from one sheet of paper to another. If you score high enough, you become the lucky recipient of phone calls and bulk mail telling you that with scores like that, you could be president. But you have to start out as a cook.


First, is there 1000 people in Madison County? Second, do you hate America?

To be honest, I stopped reading after the monkey rant. I mean, would you ever eat chocolate mousse after a five-course meal of devil's food cake, boston kreme pie, rice pudding, three-bean casserole, and a slice of lemon tort? Of course not. You know why? Because Brian's a real resut's man.

You panned it out for the non-rural inquirers, but what can we do about it and how can we all help? Should we start picking off recruiters and counselors from a distant rooftop or should we seek out a caring congressman who looks down upon taking advantage of the vulnerablity of our rural youth (if they even exist)?
The real bitch of it is most people dont even see military testing in public schools as a problem. They are still stuck in the middle ages' line of thinking "what the king says, goes." That being said, people refuse to think for themselves and, in turn, fail to set a proper example for children to do any different.
The full list of what can be done, and to what extent is still in the rough draft, but those motherfuckers will not have access to my students, regardless of the consequences I must face. YEAH, that's right, Mr. Rumsfield, so put that in your strategically placed school and bomb it!

Not to be polemical, but if an opportunity to get the hell out of Montana and get paid more than you would in Montana looks pretty good to a lot of Montana kids, might it just be because it's a good opportunity? Put another way, is heavy representation of poor/undereducated/rural people in the military exploitative per se (lying recruiters aside), or is it sometimes the best of a bad situation?
Also, who is Diane Petroni?

I'm with you 100% Brian. Since I moved back to my beloved homestate of North Dakota in 2003, I have been heartbroken to rediscover how many young men and women in my community are running off to the military. Everyone here knows at least a handful of troops that are currently in Iraq, enroute to go, or recently returned home. Watching the agony and discomfort on the faces of my little sister's recently returned friends (all younger than 22 years old) as they try to reconnect with the family, friends, and opportunities that surround them has reduced me to tears more than once. Watching a dear marine friend who I had always envisioned as the toughest mo-fo in the northern prairie return injured to the point of being unable to open a car door, all the while knowing he will be sent back in a matter of weeks does something to the soul. I don't know what the answer is - but I cringe every time I pass recruiters hanging out by the pizza shop at the mall.
And it's not just the young ones. A male buddy decided at the tender age of 27 that his life in Bismarck was going nowhere, and he might as well join the army, where he now digs/cleans toilets. This is a man with a college degree that fell along with the dot com collapse. Unable to secure a job with better wages/hours/benefits than landscaping, he joined the army. It took him months to tell all of us what he had done. What??? What could drive someone to not share their life-long decision with their friends? Of course, we all supported his decision. However, he has been changed for the worse, and I fear foremost that he will not return, and if he does, that he may never get over this.
Depressed already on a monday.....

Mineral County blows.


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