The U.S. Army’s $3.2 million Armor Adventure Van came to Berkeley High Monday as part of a three-day tour of East Bay High Schools intended to show students what today’s army is all about – and to encourage them to join.
An 18-wheeler with a life-like painting of a tank on the side, its cannon blazing, the Armor Adventure Van tours the country to help out with the Army’s recruiting efforts. Inside a high-tech multi-media presentation allows high school and college students to experience simulations of everything from a M-16 rifle to some of the army’s most high-tech equipment.
The van drew large crowds all day Monday. Some students said they were considering careers in the military, others came to protest the van’s very presence on campus. The majority of students said they came because they were eager to play with the Army’s latest hardware.
Entering the van in groups of 25 at a time, the students watched a video on the history of armored warfare in the U.S. Army, from George Washington’s cavalry to today’s tank battalions. They squeezed off round after round in a M-16 simulator and took turns in the driver’s seat, the “gunner” seat and the command seat of a simulated M1A1 tank, the Army’s most advanced armored vehicle.
“I shot all of them, you know what I’m saying,” sang Berkeley High Junior Eugene Fortune as he left the van. “I got skills.”
A hunter, Fortune challenged one of the Army recruiters to a friendly shooting competition with the M-16 simulator. Little did he know that the recruiter was a trained Army sniper.
Fortune said he might join the Army after he graduates from Berkeley High.
“They pay for college,” he said. “That’s cool.”
Berkeley High junior Natasha Mark said she is leaning toward the Marines, but nevertheless enjoyed her time in the Army’s Armor Adventure Van. In one of the displays, Mark typed her Berkeley address into a computer and watched in amazement as it drew a map of the world with the location of her house marked by a red star.
Berkeley High Senior Arthur Quinn said he thought many Berkeley students would come away from the van with a better understanding of military life.
“A lot of kids were saying, ‘Let’s go inside and shoot people,’ ” Quinn said, although none of the simulations involved shooting at people.
“Most people don’t know what they army is,” Quinn said. “They actually show them what it is they do.”
More than a dozen students turned out to protest the van’s presence. Some carried doctored military posters, including one with a picture of a young Navy seaman with the words “I’m oppressed” scrawled across his sailor’s cap.
Although she didn’t protest, student Anna Leff-Kich said she could understand why some students would be upset by the presence of the Armored Adventure Van right in the center of the Berkeley High campus.
“All the stuff going on, all the school shootings, and they come in and say, ‘It’s fun to play with guns,’” Leff-Kich said.
Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch said he invited the recruiting van to campus because the Army is an equal opportunity employer with career opportunities that could appeal to some Berkeley High students.
Lynch said he warned the recruiters that they might get “a little heat” from protesters, but the recruiting officers seemed surprised by the anger of some students.
“They don’t like the army here,” said one camouflaged-clad recruiter, shaking his head.
Pointing to places where students had smeared food and written obscenities on the van, Army Staff Sgt. Simon Choe said “This is ridiculous, these kids.”
“We came here because of the kids,” said Choe, a native of Korea who credits the Army with providing him a good education in the United States.
“If they don’t want to join the service, that’s fine,” Choe said. “But that’s not the way.”
Berkeley High teacher John Fike said he was a student at Berkeley High in 1979 when a large group of student protesters actually drove an Army recruiting van off campus.
“That was also Berkeley in the ’70s,” Fike said. “Maybe times have changed.
“It’s ironic and unfortunate that, for a lot of kids, the military is a real option” because it helps pay for education, Fike said.
Berkeley School Board President Terry Doran said he was “disturbed” to learn of the recruiting van’s presence on the Berkeley High campus Monday.
Army recruiting officers have visited the campus regularly since the seventies, Doran said, but they, like other recruiters, were simply given a room where interested students could meet with them.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had any kind of occupational recruitment of that nature coming on campus,” Doran said of the Armor Adventure Van. “This, to me, is much more aggressive recruiting by the Army than I feel is appropriate.”
Doran also questioned the appropriateness of having weapon simulators on any high school campus, where the students are a “captive audience.”