The Virtual Army Experience (VAE) has been on tour for the last few years accross the country. Most people have welcomed it. For lots of families, it’s been a distraction and not neccesarily something harmful for their teens. During their Central Florida tour at the Kennedy Space Center late last year, it was just an attraction. Playing games such as America’s Army from a helicopter or a Humvee can be real fun. Of course, there may have been a few interested youngsters interested in the Army. While there are no other VAE events now (the site has not been updated since last November),  another Army project seems to have taken priority. The US Army Experience Center, located at the Franklin Mills Mall in northern Philadelphia, has become the center of attention, but for unexpected reasons, in the last few days. Some people believe this act is a plan from the US Army to recruit teens with the use of violent videogames. According to ShutDownTheAEC.net, “The Army Experience Center is therefore involved in the “Criminal Solicitation of Minors” – soliciting underage persons to act in a violent manner and thereby promoting and supporting criminal and corrupt behavior.” This afternoon, a protest took place at the mentioned mall formed by over 300 people. Several organizations got together to peacefully send their message, but things did not go as expected. Read the following press release for more info.

El Virtual Army Experience (VAE) ha estado viajando por todo el país. Varia gente le ha dado la bienvenida. Para muchas familias, es una distracción y no necesariamente algo dañino para sus adolescentes. Durante su viaje a la Florida Central en el Kennedy Space Center a finales del año pasado, fue solo una atracción. El jugar America’s Army desde un helicóptero o un “Humvee” puede ser verdaderamente divertido. Claro, quizás haya habido unos pocos jóvenes interesados en el ejército. Ya que no hay eventos del VAE (el sitio web no ha sido actualizado desde el pasado noviembre), otro proyecto del Army parece que ha tomado prioridad. El Centro de Experiencia del Ejército Americano, localizado en el centro comercial Franklin Mills en el norte de Filadelfia, se ha convertido en el centro de atención, pero por razones inesperadas en los últimos días. Algunas personas piensan que este acto es un plan del ejército americano para reclutar a adolescentes con el uso de videojuegos violentos. De acuerdo a ShutDownTheAEC.net, “El Army Experience Center por lo tanto, participa en la “Solicitud Penal de Menores” – solicitar a los menores a actuar en forma violenta y, por ende, promover y apoyar el comportamiento criminal y corrupto.” Esta tarde se realizó una protesta en el centro comercial mencionado por más de 300 personas. Varias organizaciones se juntaron pacíficamente para dar su mensaje, pero las cosas no salieron como se esperaban. Lean el siguiente comunicado de prensa para más información (en inglés).

Sources/Fuentes: Shut Down the AEC – Saturday, May 2nd Information for Protest [http://ShutDownTheAEC.net/?p=98], Army Experience Center [http://www.thearmyexperience.com], Peace Action Blog – Today’s Rally, March, Shut Down and arrests at the Army Experience Center [http://peaceblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/todays-rally-march-shut-down-and-arrests-at-the-army-experience-center/].

Seven Arrested at Philadelphia Mall over Military Recruiting Practices
300 Veterans, military families, religious leaders and voters rallied, marched and closed the “Army Experience Center” to decry the Army pilot program that entices teens with violent video games

Philadelphia, PA — Saturday, May 2, 2009 – Several hundred demonstrators from a coalition of 30 national and regional veteran, youth and peace groups, including the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, Student Peace Action Network, protested what they claimed were unethical military recruitment of teenagers at Franklin Mills Mall in northeast Philadelphia.

The protesters rallied at a church, then marched one mile to the Franklin Mills mall where dozens of police blocked them from entering the “Army Experience Center” (AEC). After nearly an hour of chants of “War is no game, shut down the Army Experience Center” and speeches, Bob Smith of the Brandywine Peace Community (a member of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,300 national and local organizations) delivered a criminal complaint (4) to a Captain at the AEC and to a representative of the mall’s parent company, The Simon Property Group, Inc. After two police warnings, hundreds of protesters continued to chant and listen to speeches by Col. Wright and others, until the police arrested seven conducting civil disobedience by refusing to leave. Forced out of the mall, people continued to vigil and listen to songs by the Granny Peace Brigade outside the “red” entrance to the mall.

“The Army Experience Center is an abomination. It epitomizes the turn for the worse that the military was forced to take over the last eight years. It is misleading. It targets impressionable minors, and it propagates the glorification of war. I am utterly disgusted that the Army which I loved and in which I served so long has resorted to such a deceiving recruiting strategy,” said Sergeant Jesse Hamilton, who served nine years in the Army including tours in Iraq. After receiving and honorable discharge, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Elaine Brower, 53, who sits on the board of Peace Action of Staten Island, was one of those taken to jail. She has been organizing against the AEC because she is the mother of a Marine who just returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Col. Anne Wright, former State Department official of 16 years shouted, “We demand that our policy isn’t militarism but diplomacy.”

Critics of the AEC point out that it is not acceptable for alcohol, cigarette, pornography, gun manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to market to thirteen year olds. They claim those decisions are for adults and dying for something you believe in is also an adult decision.

One of the religious leaders present, Rev. Bob Moore, the director of the Coalition for Peace Action, preached, “War is not fun and exciting; War is hell on earth. If you’re not old enough to drink you are not old enough to kill. No recruiting of our children!” He organized one hundred people to attend the protest.”

With American’s saying they want troops home from Iraq and becoming more concerned about our troops in Afghanistan, the military is finding it more difficult to recruit youth who disagree with U.S. foreign policy. “In its desperate approach to meet recruiting numbers, the military is teaching the wrong values to teenagers. Sugarcoating combat experience with virtual war is a dishonor to those with real war experience. That’s why the Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) works with young veterans, and high school and college students across the country for truth and honor in recruiting,” stated Jonathan Williams, Span’s coordinator.

Police estimated over 200 participants while organizers claimed nearly 300 attended the rally at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, then marched with one lead 12’ by 3’ banner that said, “War is No Game, Close-down Army Experience Center” along Knights Road to the AEC where an enlarged version of the criminal complaint was handed over and stated, in part, “THAT: the Army Experience Center is therefore involved in the “Criminal Solicitation of Minors” – soliciting underage persons to act in a violent manner and thereby promoting and supporting criminal and corrupt behavior…”

The Pentagon is committed to establishing “Experience Centers” in malls across the country. The $13 Million, 14,500 square foot facility at Franklin Mills Mall boasts dozens of video game computers and X-Box video game consoles with various interactive, military-style shooting games as well as Apache helicopter and Humvee simulators that allow teens to simulate the killing of Arabs and Afghans. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Rob Watson compares the Army Experience Center to “a heavy dose of candy cigarettes.” (3) 200 packs of candy cigarettes were handed out with Watson’s column at the protest.

After leaving the indoor skateboard park across from the AEC, one teenager wearing a helmet and kneepads, with skateboard in tow, quipped “skateboards are the solution,” after grabbing a “War Isn’t Working,” Peace Action, bumper sticker.

For more information: http://shutdowntheaec.net

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Founded in 1957, Peace Action (formerly SANE/Freeze), the United States’ largest peace and disarmament organization, with over 100,000 paid members and nearly 100 chapters in 34 states, works to abolish nuclear weapons, promote government spending priorities that support human needs, encourage real security through international cooperation and human rights, and support nonmilitary solutions to the conflicts with Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. http://www.Peace-Action.org

Peace Action Education Fund’s, Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) works with students on over 100 campuses nationwide. http://www.StudentPeaceAction.org

PeaceAction Montgomery, Coalition for Peace Action, Peace Action of Staten Island and BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action are all affiliates of Peace Action and helped organize the protest.

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