FIRST SGT. OTTO HARRINGTON — tall, muscular, his head cleanshaven -- has soldiered through battles in Bosnia, Kuwait and Somalia. He has patrolled Korea's DMZ.
None of that prepared him, though, for the attacks he has faced as senior teacher in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, where students and teachers have launched a crusade against military recruiting and JROTC.
Harrington blames their campaign for cutting the number of cadets at Roosevelt by 43% in four years, from 286 to 162. Some teachers urge students not to sign up for JROTC, he said, and have worked to end involuntarily placement in the program.
"They seem to think I'm some evil, horrible soldier down here trying to sacrifice our kids to Iraq," Harrington said in describing the increasing tensions on the Eastside campus.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 20, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Junior ROTC: A photo caption accompanying an article in Monday's Section A about the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Roosevelt High School identified Jennifer Gonzalez as a second lieutenant. Although she was subsequently promoted to second lieutenant, Gonzalez was a master sergeant at the time the photo was taken.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
JROTC programs: A Feb. 19 article in Section A about the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps reported that schools in Lowell, Mass., have taken steps to abolish the program. JROTC is ongoing in the Lowell Public School District.
The program's critics see JROTC as a Trojan horse targeting students in low-income minority schools with high dropout rates. "We are a juicy target," said Roosevelt social studies teacher Jorge Lopez.
At Roosevelt and other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the anti-JROTC movement has helped drive a 24% drop in enrollment since 2003-04, Harrington and his critics said. The decline runs counter to enrollment nationwide, which grew 8% to 486,594 cadets between 2001 and 2006, fueled by a 57% jump in federal funding, according to the Department of Defense.
Roosevelt's "Rough Rider Battalion" was once among JROTC's finest, a powerhouse that routinely bested rivals in citywide competitions. In 1990, when the program had 400 cadets, the battalion's girls' drill team won the national championship.
JROTC students have uniforms and attend one cadet class each day, learning skills that include financial planning, map reading and how to give a PowerPoint presentation.
The Department of Defense-sponsored program, which is in 30 of L.A. Unified's 61 high schools, also includes physical education, target practice and marching drills. JROTC participants have no obligation to join the military, but students who complete the program are entitled to higher starting pay if they enlist.
Roosevelt 11th-grader Jesse Flores said that as recently as his freshman year, students didn't think less of kids for being in JROTC; some even stopped cadets to admire ribbons and medals pinned to their uniforms. "Now," Jesse said, "everyone says JROTC is bad."
Many teachers are openly hostile toward JROTC, Jesse said, and some wear T-shirts that say "A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind."
Arlene Inouye, a speech therapist formerly at Roosevelt, said she thinks anti-military advocacy by teachers is a counterbalance to a strong military presence on campus. She said she once counted 14 recruiters approaching lunchtime crowds of students in Roosevelt's quad, handing out "Join the Army" book covers and promising adventure, travel and money for college.
In 2003, concerned that students weren't hearing the other side, she founded the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools. The group has spread to 50 Los Angeles-area schools, providing member teachers with literature, speakers, films and books.
Their efforts are possible in part because of a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 1986 that requires public schools that allow recruiters on campus to give counter-recruiters a shot at addressing students.
At Roosevelt, the coalition teamed with United Students, a group of students and teachers working to improve education on the Eastside and get more Latinos into college.
United Students' 100 Roosevelt members began keeping track of when military recruiters were scheduled to visit so they could conduct counter-recruiting the day before.
At its annual Education Justice Week, students in the group invite college recruiters to campus and encourage students to continue their schooling rather than enlisting. They also have presented in 60 classrooms a program called "Students Not Soldiers," which aims to expose the dark side of military life.
Nearly two dozen teachers have also shown the films "Arlington West," put out by Veterans for Peace, and "The Ground Truth," a documentary in which veterans condemn the war in Iraq and their treatment by the military on their return home.
Lopez, the social studies teacher, keeps a stack of glossy brochures propped on his chalkboard titled "Don't Die in a Dead-End Job! Information for Young People Considering the Military" that show a soldier saluting flag-draped coffins. Prominent on his wall is a poster called "Ten Points to Consider Before You Sign a Military Enlistment Agreement."
"I want to see more Latinos go to college," Lopez said.
The warren of six JROTC rooms at Roosevelt is decorated with drawings of tanks. On the front wall of Harrington's classroom is a row of brown- and gold-framed photographs of the chain of command, from President Bush to the secretary of defense to JROTC instructors.