Summer's almost here, schools are getting out -- and military recruitment season is in high gear.

It's the busiest time of the year for recruiters -- especially in rural communities -- as graduating seniors unsure about their future check out the armed forces. As we've documented, the South is considered especially fertile recruiting ground; here's a recent report from Albany, Georgia:


Air Force Recruiter Sgt. Lewis McCoy says [high school senior Alexandria] Parks is one of many graduates he is meeting with, during a very busy week. "Yesterday I had an office full of students all day long. I didn't get out of my office till 11:30 last night," McCoy said.

McCoy says many South Georgia high school seniors are coming into military recruiting offices this week. "A lot of young people I guess they have not made plans. They are scrambling toward the end of the year, trying to figure out what they want to do. They are coming to the Air Force office to see what kind of opportunities we have for them."

There's a lot of pressure on recruiters this summer. The Bush administration has called for boosting Army and Marine recruitment by 92,000 in the next five years. To meet this goal, the Pentagon famously relaxed recruitment standards to allow more with criminal backgrounds (in 2006, some 58,000 had drug convictions) and increased the age limit from 35 to 42.

But the biggest target is high schools, where the Pentagon has launched a massive campaign to befriend educators -- what the Army calls "key influencers" for teens. The National Education Association reported on the new strategy, revealed in the Army's "School Recruiting Program Handbook":

"Ensure an Army presence in all secondary schools," the manual advises. "School ownership is the goal." How best to do that? "Be indispensable to school administration, counselors, faculty, and students. Be so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are in constant demand, so if anyone has any questions about the military service, they call you first!"

To get educators on board, the Marines even took 80 teachers from Kentucky and Virginia this spring and put them through a simulated "boot camp" at Parris Island, South Carolina.

But there's one group the military still isn't willing to consider to meet its targets -- gay and lesbian recruits. At last night's Republican presidential debate, none of the candidates supported changing the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (in contrast to the Democratic debate, where all of the hopefuls did).

Think Progress describes the impact:

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is weakening our national security. Since the policy was instituted, at least 11,000 servicemembers, hundreds of whom had with key speciality skills such as training in Arabic, have left the military. Currently in the midst of a readiness crisis, the military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays could serve openly.

For more news and resources, see the American Friends Services Committee and The Frontlines, blog of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.