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The Army can be bad for your health

Find new soldiers,

Where you can;

Get them ready,

For Iran.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced he's going to beef up the Army again. Another 20,000 recruits. And why not? Afghanistan and Iraq are busily chewing through our troops, Iran is waiting, and the Great Recession is still churning out fodder for recruitment. Might as well grab them now, while war sounds patriotic and they don't have much else to do.

To get such youngsters into the right frame of mind, some towns invite the military to publicly show off their wares. They'd have you think that shooting people is the most natural thing in the world. Of course these days maybe it is, so why not start with kindergarteners? That's now one target audience, at least (according to reports) in Juneau, Alaska, and the state of Hawaii. In Tarpon Springs, Fla., they do wait until high school, but then allow commercial gun dealers to tag along with the soldiers. In between we have the Junior ROTC.

In Philadelphia, the Army has struck off on its own with a new prototype. It rented an empty mall store and set up idealized electronic combat scenes where young people can shoot up the "enemy" (brown-skinned) in simulators and video games. Luckily the enemy doesn't shoot back. Most of us had gotten that stuff out of our systems by the time we were 10, but this is for youth who still cling to childhood war fantasies. The place also draws protesters.

Of course, even in a jobless recovery, recruitment is no picnic. The Army reports that 75 percent of age-eligible youth aren't qualified. There have always been plenty who flunked the entry exam, flunked out of school, or flunked the police-record search. Now the big hurdle is flunking the weight/height ratio. Obesity is suddenly all the rage. Luckily, waivers of all these flaws are common.

Then once in uniform, other problems crop up. About a third of women recruits end up getting raped. Official response to such trauma generally replicates that of the Taliban. And gays are always vulnerable under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Undocumented immigrants are likewise vulnerable if they want to hang on to collect that magic citizenship paper upon discharge.

Safest of all recruits are the mentally ill. No one wants to oust them for a little thing like that. There's too much need for their warm bodies. Yes, they may be more likely to kill themselves, or others, or to go around the bend at an inconvenient moment, but they do keep the troop count up.

And blessedly, all those excited young bucks and does entering the service can't foresee what life will be like when they return as civilians. Mental and physical injuries can disable them for life. PTSD victims often find that marriages erode, landlords get cranky, jobs annoy, families lack understanding, and police grow irritable. Plus the VA doesn't see what Agent Orange, depleted uranium or toxic fumes have to do with your later health problems. Let alone those of your kids.

Maybe the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan isn't the Vietnam War, but a nation that lures its young into the military, sucks out their life, and deposits their living carcasses on the scrap heaps of society is morally bankrupt. Its victories of greed and power destroy its fiber and soul.

Not to say that we're describing the United States here, but who else? Well, maybe Britain too. And maybe it's just that we vets have a little clearer view of some things. If so, it's time for a national program of contact lenses to help everyone share the vision.

Minuteman Media columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn., and is also a national board member of Veterans for Peace.