In November of 1989, a fully armed Blackhawk helicopter landed on the baseball diamond of an elementary school. The Blackhawk’s arrival at East Marion was not unexpected, and for most of the day, kids were rotated in and out of the school to see it.
Periodically, the pilots would start the engines up, fly upward, and do a few laps of the field. Kids were even allowed to sit in the cockpit. Even now, I can remember the ridges of the “Fire Control, Pylon 1” toggle beneath my right thumb, and the face of my sadistic (appropriately Slavic) gym teacher positioned just ahead of Pylon 1’s Hellfire. Damned pilot took the keys. But military hardware is cool…the kids, they kids love it. And they love it even more when it leaves.
In this segment from the Colbert Report (end of the article), Stephen tells the story of San Diego Unified School District’s latest toy, a leftover MRAP from the war in Afghanistan. They got the 18-ton, six-wheeled, mine-resistant transport vehicle (which originally cost taxpayers $733,000 to purchase) for free. Well, free, plus the $5,000 in gas it cost to drive it there.
The surplus hardware came to them by way of the Department of Defense’s 1033 Excess Property Program, the same responsible for militarizing our police forces with tactical equipment like guns, grenade launches, body armor and yes, MRAPs. Stephen himself mentions that just down the street, another school district was now in possession of military grenade launchers.
But how did they end up in schools?
The 1033 program was designed to militarize police, but many large school districts like San Diego’s Unified have their own in-house police divisions. It was this district’s Chief Ruben Littlejohn who signed for his department’s latest toy. Without any approval from the school board, since it wasn’t needed.
Of course, a giant, evil-looking military vehicle might send the wrong message to the children of San Diego. Might get them thinking “Hey…military vehicles rolling around our town and schools are perfectly normal.” So, to change the optics, the MRAP got a less threatening paint job from one of San Diego’s high school auto shops.
To be fair, that is somewhat more benevolent-looking than it was. Well, maybe benevolent isn’t the right word. But, still…better. As is what will be carried inside, including, according to Littlejohn:
“There will be medical supplies in the vehicle. There will be teddy bears in the vehicle. There will be trauma kits in the vehicle in the event any student is injured, and our officers are trained to give first aid and CPR.”
And, dammit…you have to give the guy credit for his heart being in the right place. Seriously — if someone offered you an 18-ton toy that you thought kids might find as cool as you — say you wouldn’t think about it. Boys will be boys, after all. And if you can repaint and re-purpose a military vehicle to deliver teddy bears and medical supplies…we can’t see the harm.
But this is a school, after all.
So how about a slightly more…EDUCATIONAL paint scheme?
Watch Steven Colbert’s take in this in the video below: