I was on my way home from a meeting when I got a call. My friend Shelly was asking me to come over to Gaston High School, home of the Greyhounds. Our mutual friend, Helvi, who goes to the school every time military recruiters show up, needed support.

I stopped at Gaston Market for a snack, and then proceeded up the hill and into the parking lot. It was an unusually sunny day. I proceeded to the office, where I met my friends, signed in and received my visitor’s badge.

We were there to observe military recruitment at the high school. Ever since the “No Child Left Behind” era of George W. Bush, schools that receive Title IX funds (i.e., poor schools in rural or inner city areas) are required to allow military recruiting. This day it was the Marines. Although they were not officially recruiting, they were there doing “volunteer work” during the physical education class. The class began in the gym and then moved to the football field.

In the gym, the phys ed teacher gave a little speech introducing the Marine, explaining that he was there to show the students what the Marines do every day to stay fit and healthy. He asked the students to give him a big hand, and then we followed a group of about 22 kids onto the football field.

The Marine was not in uniform. He was wearing a black T-shirt with the Marine insignia on the front and the word “Marines” in nice red letters. On the back was a slogan: “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” it read.

The school principal showed up, and asked if Shelly and I had kids at Gaston High. Shelly is part of a huge family that has lived in the Gaston area for generations. Shelly responded that she has relatives who have gone to Gaston High. The principal is herself a product of the Gaston school system, and proof that one does not necessarily have to go into the military after graduating from Gaston High.

The Marine explained that the students would be doing some “exercises” similar to what Marines do to stay healthy and fit. His assistant handed out some sheets of paper, which he explained were “release forms.”

The forms had a line for name, address, phone number, ethnicity, and a list of areas of interest the student could choose from. At the very bottom in extremely small letters was a disclaimer. I doubted the legality of this being signed by 14- to 18-year-olds.

The students were given the option to do the “exercises” or not. About 10 students opted out, mostly girls.

At the rear of the field, I saw kids carrying each other on their backs. Near the front of the field there were two kids laying on their stomachs and one kid in the middle on his back. The two outside kids were dragging the middle kid. The “exercises” looked like military training exercises to me. True, schools can be dangerous and scary places these days. I suppose it’s possible you would have to carry your classmate out of the building on your back, or drag them like a dead body.

I admit I’m no spring chicken and that I went to school a long time ago, but I found it horrifying, and definitely not something I want my tax dollars paying for.

These exercises went on for 45 minutes. It was explained that the exercises would continue for the next two classes so all the kids would have a chance to participate.

As we followed the recruiting officer and the students off the field, I noticed the Marine was limping. He politely allowed us to go in front of him on the stairs. I held my tongue and did not ask if the limp was “the weakness leaving his body!”

Sierra Briano lives and paints in the woods near Forest Grove.

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