Anti-war judge rejects foster teen's bid to join military
Anti-war judge rejects foster teen's bid to join military By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer Article Last Updated: 03/07/2008 07:16:45 AM PST
SIMI VALLEY - Shawn Sage long dreamed of joining the military, and watching "Full Metal Jacket" last year really sold him on becoming a Marine.
But last fall, a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner dashed the foster teen's hopes of early enlistment for Marine sniper duty, plus a potential $10,000 signing bonus.
In denying the Royal High School student delayed entry into the Marine Corps, Children's Court Commissioner Marilyn Mackel reportedly told Sage and a recruiter that she didn't approve of the Iraq war, didn't trust recruiters and didn't support the military.
"The judge said she didn't support the Iraq war for any reason why we're over there," said Marine recruiter Sgt. Guillermo Medrano of the Simi Valley USMC recruiting office.
"She just said all recruiters were the same - that they `all tap dance and tell me what I want to hear.' She said she didn't want him to fight in it."
Sage, 17, said he begged for Mackel's permission.
"Foster children shouldn't be denied (an) ability to enlist in the service just because they're foster kids," he said. "Foster kids shouldn't have to go to court to gain approval to serve one's country."
Mackel, a juvenile dependency commissioner at the Children's Court in Monterey Park, declined through a clerk to speak about any court case or comments she may have made in court.
Transcripts of juvenile court hearings require a special release from a judge. Court
officials said a transcript of the Sage hearing, if released, would not be available for a week or more. After Sage submitted a winning entry to the lawmaker's Write a Bill Challenge, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth introduced legislation last month that would allow foster teens to enlist in the service without express permission from a judge.
Instead, AB2238 would allow foster children 17 or older to sign up with the consent of a foster parent or social worker.
"Here is one impressive young man who somehow made it through the challenge of the foster system, had a clear sense of a career path and was denied that opportunity by a judge basically because of her personal bias," said Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, who will honor Sage today at a Royal High assembly.
"I find that to be a horrific abuse of her power."
It was Oct. 12 when Medrano, in crisp dress blues, appeared with Sage before the commissioner to petition for his early enlistment.
The USMC Delayed Entry Program, like those in other services, allows high school seniors to enlist in the service up to a year before starting boot camp.
Recruiters encourage students to hone their study skills, learn to eat right and become fit enough to don a uniform.
By "DEPing in," students can enlist at 17, get their high school diploma, then lock in a military job such as Force Recon - or scout snipers. They also qualify for a signing bonus.
"We just gave out the last one for recon today to another kid for $10,000," USMC Master Sgt. Edgar Carpenter of the Marine Recruiting Office in Simi Valley said Wednesday.
"The Delayed Entry Program supports everything a parent would try to do: We make them stay out of trouble; get them in physical condition; and get them indoctrinated into the Marine Corps culture."
Only Mackel - and it appears a court bailiff as well - objected to the program, despite pleas from Sage and Medrano.
"I tried. I said, `Please.' I begged. He tried, he said, `Please' and begged," Sage said. "But she refused."
Mackel said she denied delayed enlistment to an eager Navy recruit as well, Medrano said.
She expressed concern that recruiters treat recruits "like another warm body," he said. "She said, `All you care about is your numbers."'
At this point, the 10-year Marine said the court bailiff raised his hand and addressed the young Sage.
"My son's in the Army," he said. "He did the Delayed Entry Program. They don't care about you. They're just there for the numbers.
"I said, `No, I'm not them," Medrano said. "I care about Shawn (and) about every single person I put into the Marine Corps. I follow them. I take care of my kids. I treat them like my Marines.
"It just felt like, wow. I even told Shawn, I said, `Dude, it feels like we've been burned at the stake at the Salem witch trial.' She just had some kind of animosity toward military personnel."
Early this year, Berkeley city officials drew national fire for calling Marine Corps recruiters "uninvited and unwelcome intruders" while granting free parking for anti-war protesters. Lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington pushed bills to deny millions in funds to city coffers.
Sage, who lives in Simi Valley but is originally from Florida, was abandoned by both parents when he was 2 and now lives in a foster home with his brother.
He had wanted to join the military ever since he'd met a service rep at school at age 7 - first the Air Force, then the Navy, finally the Marines.
His foster parents, as well as his social worker, supported his decision to enlist early. Despite being denied, he still shows up for USMC physical training.
"Did they ever kick my butt," he said proudly. "They still do."
When he graduates and turns 18 in June, it'll be all Semper Fi, bonus or no signing bonus, whether he's allowed early deployment or not.
As winner of Smyth's "there oughta be a law" contest, he will be flown to Sacramento to testify before the Assembly.
"I didn't do it for the signing bonus, because I'm a motivated kid," he said. "I am hoping to join the military before I graduate. I want to serve my country."