"It was just too peachy," said Teresa Branch, recalling somewhat sadly her visits to three local Army recruitment centers.
Ever since high school, the 23-year-old District resident had toyed with the idea of joining the Army, primarily because of the benefits.
Branch said recruiters at the three centers had told her the Army would help her complete college, teach her a skill and help take care of her 3-year-old daughter Gina.
Though she was skeptical, Branch felt she had gatheredenough information to convince her to enlist until she saw a flyer about the PreEnlistment Counseling Center on a college bulletin board and went to see a counselor.
At the center, director Jane Midgley raised questions that Branch never knew to ask the recruiters.
For the first time Branch learned she had incorrectly assumed that the Army paid for overtime work, guaranteed free day care centers or paid subsidies for day care. She also learned that recruiters could not guarantee job assignments, educational benefits or other services.
"I had asked (the recruiters) a few questions," Branch recalled, "but none of them was really (detailed) like this. I was just going by the advertisements and took a lot of what they (recruiters) were saying for granted.
"If they're not offering anything better than I have now, there's no reason to go," she sighed.
The Pre-Enlistment Counseling Center is located in the Quaker meeting house at 2111 Florida Ave. NW. During the past three years, counselors said, they have tried to present career alternatives and the realities of military life to youths who may have been misled by ads or recruiters who do not fully depict military life.
The center and its supporters advocate "more truth in military advertising" and an increase in community jobs and school programs for youths.
Two adult and four youth counselors direct the program.
Spokesmen for the Defense Department and the Army said they were unaware of the District's preenlistment center and declined to comment about it.
Since 1976, Midgley said, with the consent of D.C. school Superintendent Vincent E. Reed, Pre-Enlistment counselors have distributed more than 5,000 leaflets to students at 18 District high schools and at career day programs. They have spoken to about 500 students at high schools.
Youths are given a checklist of questions to ask recruiters and are advised to get all recruitment promises in writing.
So far this year, about 20 youths who came to the center for follow-up counseling told workers they would not join the military as a result of their counseling, according to Midgley.
The program is supported by public contributions and, most recently, by anti-poverty grant funds from one of the city's Neighborhood Planning Councils, Midgley said. Next year the center expects to have a $16,000 budget, double this year's budget, through a grant from a Connecticut foundation.
The military spends $80 million a year on recruitment advertising, said Lt. Col. Brigham Shuler, a Defense Department spokesman.
"What we're doing is just a drop in the bucket," admitted Al Caesar, a counselor at the center, "but I get a sense of satisfaction out of just enlightening one person so he will be aware, and it (military life) won't come as a complete surprise."
Caesar, 35 said he joined the Army because he though he would be trained in a marketable skill. Although he received training in office management, much of his time was spent coping with racism, social isolation and rigid discipline, he said.
In 1976, he was discharged as a conscientious objector.
After 14 years as an Army officer manager, Caesar notes: "I'm still unemployed." Civilian employers tell him he lacks training.
The counselors use military statistics, news reports and the experiences of veterans like Caesar in their work. Among their information.
According to a 1978 study by Rep. Robin Beard (R-Tenn.), 90 percent of the Army personnel on military bases in the U.S. and Germany were repeatedly denied the chance to take college courses by their unit commanders.
(However, an Army spokesman in an interview this week noted that off duty courses are taken by 53 percent of Amry personnel stationed in Europe and by 65 percent of personnel in Korea. Figures for personnel stationed in the U.S. were not readily available.)
Blacks make up 26.9 percent of the enlisted ranks of the Army, 6.7 percent of officers and 51 percent of the Army prison population. These figures conform with information in the Army's 3rd annunal assessment report.
This fall, the six-member counseling team, which is supplemented by volunteers, will be joined by Robert Chenoweth, 31, a Vietnam veteran who was a POW five years.
A native of Portland, Ore., Chenoweth said his anti-military views developed three days after he enlisted.
"My hope is the pre-enlistment center will be able to make more people aware of the situation, and hopefully people will choose not to go into the military," Chenoweth said. "People choose rationally on the basis of what they know, but most people don't know that much about the military. If they did, it probably wouldn't be a viable choice." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By William T. Coulter for The Washington Post