February 02, 2023

Hirono, Warren, Sanders, and Wyden Question DoD over Reports of Students Forced into JROTC Enrollment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a letter to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Education (ED) amid reports of students being forced to join the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. The lawmakers also raised concern about reports that some JROTC instructors are promoting the National Rifle Association (NRA) in order to secure grants and sponsorships.

“The actions by schools to make JROTC mandatory are also not consistent with Pentagon guidelines. JROTC instructors told the Times they are “creat[ing] problems with discipline and morale,” wrote the lawmakers.

A recent New York Times investigation found “dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or steered more than 75 percent of students in a single grade into the classes,” raising major questions about whether DoD and ED are conducting appropriate oversight of JROTC. These mandatory JROTC enrollments appear to be  disproportionately affecting communities of color and already vulnerable students from low-income backgrounds.

“JROTC uniform standards largely reflect those of the military services, and members of our all-volunteer military force are aware when they choose to serve that they will have to meet these standards,” wrote the lawmakers. “But students conscripted into JROTC have no such choice. This forces students of color to conform to dress codes and hairstyles that, in practice, discriminate by race.”

In their letter, the lawmakers also raise concern that in order to obtain NRA grants and sponsorships for JROTC marksmanship training and competitions, instructors at public high schools “have repeatedly promised to promote the organization at competitions and in newsletters, post N.R.A. banners at their schools or add the N.R.A. logo to apparel worn by students.” Some instructors went as far as encouraging students to join the N.R.A. and “volunteered students to participate in N.R.A. fund-raising events.”

“DoD ethics regulations make clear that DoD employees are prohibited from fundraising for outside entities except under very limited circumstances,” wrote the lawmakers. “Given these clear expectations for DoD employees, it is unfathomable why JROTC instructors think it would be appropriate to direct students to volunteer for NRA fundraising.”

The DoD and ED also sent responses to letters sent by Senator Hirono and other senators in September 2022 asking to learn more about current processes to ensure the safety of students in the program and to determine where those processes failed and left students vulnerable to sexual misconduct.

DoD reported it had received 114 allegations of acts of violence, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment by instructors against students in the JROTC program over the past ten years, with only one instructor cleared of all charges. The Navy reported it had no specific policy to address adult sexual misconduct within its JROTC program. ED told the Senators it was only aware of three Title IX violation complaints in JROTC programs over the same time period. ED also stated that DoD and ED “are reviewing effective practices” for ED to receive reports of sexual misconduct from DoD, but it’s clear that the risks to many of these students were not prevented by current practices.

“We understand the ongoing concerns about military recruitment, and support programs to address recruiting shortfalls,” wrote the lawmakers. “But the JROTC program cannot help address these problems and uphold its mission to instill ‘the values of citizenship, service to the United States…and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment’  if students are forced to participate against their will."

The full text of the letter can be downloaded here.

Last September, Senator Hirono questioned a panel of DoD leaders about the New York Times article, asking whether the branches were aware of this problem in their respective JROTC programs and what they planned to do to address this misconduct.