Military alternatives

Charles Withuhn

PHOTO BY Vic Cantu

Joining the military is often seen by high school students as the only constructive option if they have low job prospects and no plans for college. But local activist Charles Withuhn has developed an alternative with his Career Builders Counter-Recruitment (CBCR) project. With the help of volunteers, the busy Withuhn, a retired sign-maker who’s perhaps best known these days for his tree advocacy, sets up a booth during events at Butte County high schools when he knows the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) will be there. He provides information on the dangers of joining the military, and presents teens with nearly a dozen paid and volunteer career-training alternatives. To find out more or to volunteer, contact Withuhn at 518-1417 or, or visit

How did Career Builders get started?

We began in 2013 as part of the Chico Peace and Justice Center. It breaks my heart to see high-schoolers join the military because it’s not the simple four-year commitment they promise, and there are lots of dangers like mental problems and high unemployment afterward. I wanted kids to know their options are not just going to college, living under a bridge or joining the military.

What types of programs do you offer?

We have pamphlets on 11 programs. Some pay money right away, and some let you travel to different states or countries. One of my favorites is the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF. It connects you to organic farmers in places like Hawaii or Costa Rica that show you the trade while paying your room, board and food. Plus, you only work half-time, so you have time to explore.

What do you believe are some of the dangers of joining the military?

Well, the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and suicide rates are just ridiculous. And unemployment among vets ages 18-24 is 21 percent, which is way higher than the 16.5 percent for nonvets the same age.

What kind of reactions do you get?

I have changed people’s lives and I get a lot of hugs. One girl saw our info and physically jumped off the ground, shouting, “This is what I’ve been looking for!” Another time at Fair View High an older lady was downcast because her son was considering joining the military. I gave her a pamphlet and she just about cried, saying, “Thank you so much!”

You also have veterans help you out?

Yes, we have three veterans, such as my friend Bill Mash here, who tell kids their experiences and recruiters’ lies. For example, you can’t get the training you want, and it’s not the four-year commitment they tell you; it’s often really eight years. The contract says, and our vets tell kids, when you’re halfway through your four years, the higher-ups can say, “Sorry dude, we need you for another four-year gig.”

What are your future plans for Career Builders?

Our goal is to have an exhibit in every Butte County high school. So far we’ve been in three—Chico High, Fair View and Pleasant Valley. We’ll be at Chico’s Inspire High on April 8. Plus, I really want people to call and volunteer. I’ve started up Chico Tree Activists, so I want others to take over Career Builders.