published Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Educator workshops a longstanding tradition


by Lauren Gregory

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Article: Educator workshops a longstanding tradition

Blog: Sour ending to Marine Corps experience

PhotoGallery: The Marine Corps Educators Workshop

Video: The Marine Corps Educators Workshop

By the numbers

24: Number of workshops held each year between Parris Island, S.C. and Camp Pendleton, Calif.

2,000 to 2,400: Number of educators across the county who participate in workshops annually

68: Number of Marine recruiters in Tennessee

$123,000: Budget for four-day Tennessee/Alabama workshop

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Tara Tharpe, English teacher, Red Bank High School

“At first, I really didn’t know why I was coming, but now I can’t wait to go back and talk to my (students) about this. There are opportunities (in the Marine Corps) other than combat; there are lots of educational opportunities as well... This just has really opened my eyes. I never really sat down and had conversations with people like this before.”

Shedrick Spencer, guidance program coordinator, Mobile County, Ala., Public Schools

“I’m really skeptical of this because of the times. I can’t in good conscience send these kids to war. I get the propaganda they’re selling over there at the Marine Corps base. They’re thinking that it’s most definitely good for a lot of kids, but I’m not going to suggest it now.”

Amy LeVally, biology and anatomy teacher, Red Bank High School

“I will definitely tell the kids more about it. It’s not for everybody, but I can think of a million different kids it would be good for. I really want to go do this with the other branches now to see the difference.”

The idea of using educators isn’t unique to the Marine Corps, according to the commanding officer of the Recruit Training Regiment at Parris Island, S.C.

“All of the services basically do it in one way or another,” said Col. Andrew Solgere.

Tours and workshops for educators started around the same time that the nation’s military draft was abolished in 1973, said Douglas Smith, spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

They have become more important in recent years, he said, but not because of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, Mr. Smith said, they provide a new generation f teachers with exposure to the realities of the service.

“As everyone is aging, there are fewer and fewer people in the educational community who were exposed to the Army by way of the draft,” he said. “It’s important that they have firsthand knowledge of what they’re talking about.”

Primarily, Mr. Smith said, military leaders want to dispel the myth that students can choose either the service or college.

“We say that it’s not an either/or. You can do both,” he said. In addition to GI Bill benefits after leaving the service, “we make sure that there are plenty of educational opportunities for soldiers while they are in the Army.”

Critics question whether targeting teachers is an underhanded way of accessing students who have not yet reached the legal recruiting age of 17.

Mr. Smith says that is not even an issue.

“We have no strategy to reach out to people who aren’t of recruitment age,” he said. “We certainly will not withhold information from somebody not eligible to enlist, but our main thrust is to get people in who are eligible now.”

And — after more than seven years in Afghanistan and nearly six in Iraq — all branches of the service are doing fine with that, according to Department of Defense statistics.

The Marine Corps is not hurting for recruits, said Maj. Marty Steimle, operations branch head at Parris Island. Though, unlike other branches, the Marines do not offer upfront enlistment bonuses, it is about two years ahead of recruiting goals, he said.

The 75,000-member force had set out to expand to 202,000 by 2011, Maj. Steimle said, but that goal is expected to be met sometime this year.

The Corps is looking ahead at its needs since most Marines sign on for only four-year contracts rather than making a career out of military service.

In addition, said Col. Solgere, the Marine Corps wants to keep the military accountable and in the public eye.

“We do this for the same reason we do air shows,” the colonel said. “We do it so you can see some of the capability you’re paying for with your tax dollars.”

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