"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yeah, He's Crazy, But He's Not Exactly What We Call "Special Forces Crazy" 

From the New York Times (via my local fishwrap) comes this disturbing story:
It was late September when the 21-year-old man, fresh from a three-week commitment in a psychiatric ward, showed up at an Army recruiting station in southern Ohio.

The two recruiters there quickly signed him up, and even after the man's parents told them he had bipolar disorder -- a diagnosis that would disqualify him -- he was set to go to boot camp before senior officers found out and canceled the enlistment.

Despite an Army investigation, the recruiters were not punished and were still working in the area late last month.

Two hundred miles away, in northern Ohio, another recruiter said the incident hardly surprised him. He has been bending or breaking enlistment rules for months, he said, hiding police records and medical histories of potential recruits. His commanders have encouraged such deception, he said, because they know there is no other way to meet the Army's recruitment quotas.

"The problem is that no one wants to join," the recruiter said. "We have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by."

Before going on, and in the interest of fairness, I must note that one element of this story seemed to imply that the author might be getting some bad information:
The number of recruiters investigated rose to 1,118 last year, or nearly one in five of all recruiters, up from 913 in 2002, or one in eight.

If 1,118 recruiters investigated last year represents one in five, that means there were roughly 5600 recruiters. But only two years earlier, there were supposedly about 7300 recruiters (913 times eight). That's a pretty substantial number of recruiters lost during a short period of time - a period of time in which the armed forces were highly motivated to maximize recruiting. I suppose that's possible; I suppose it might even be the case that personnel that would otherwise be devoted to recruiting has been reassigned to combat-related tasks in or around Iraq. Still, a reduction of almost 25% in the recruiting staff between 2002 and 2004 seems difficult to believe. This is exactly the sort of thing which, when left unexplained, diminishes a reporter's credibility in my view.

That said, it is not hard to believe that recruiters are having to cut more than a few corners right now. The supply of people who are patriotic (and maybe desperate) enough to sign on for duty in Dick & Dubya's Escellent Invasion is surely finite, even before accounting for the disturbing fact that anyone who signs on might find his or her commitment extended (through the magic of "stop loss") to the year 2031. Granted, some people are natural born salesmen - they can sell ice to the Inuits - but that doesn't mean they can sell an all-expenses-paid vacation to Fallujah.

If it is indeed the case that recruits with police records and/or mental health issues are being signed up in violation military policy and regulations, the outcome is unlikely to be good. Iraq is a tricky place these days; it is extraordinarily difficult to engage the insurgents and still win the hearts and minds of innocents when the insurgents look and act exactly like the innocents. If you were a soldier in Baghdad, would you want your comrades at arms to be bipolar? If you were an Iraqi civilian, would you want a guy with a criminal record wandering around your neighborhood with an M-16?

Me either.

Update: Here's more on the same subject (emphasis supplied):
Two Army recruiters in Golden have been suspended from their jobs while military officials look into allegations the two men used improper tactics to get an Arvada high school student to sign up for duty....

The report featured David McSwane, an Arvada West High School honors student and editor of his school newspaper, who was "curious" to see what recruiters at a Golden recruitment facility would do if he told them he wanted to join the Army as a high school dropout with a serious marijuana problem....

Starting in January, McSwane met with two recruiters in Golden several times and secretly taped a series of phone calls with them. On the tapes, one recruiter is apparently heard encouraging McSwane to create a fake high school diploma to cover for the fact that he had dropped out.

"It can be like Faith Hill Baptist School or something - whatever you choose," the recruiter said.

McSwane said he bought a phony diploma, complete with a transcript, from a Web site for $200. He was told that it passed the Army's academic evaluation....

McSwane got a friend to film another recruiter driving him to a store to purchase a detoxification kit to rid his system of supposed marijuana traces....

Debbie Cannon, public affairs chief for the Denver Army Recruiting Battalion, wouldn't comment on the allegations. She expected the investigation to be completed within 30 days.

"Recruiter misconduct is not acceptable and it violates honor, duty and trust," Lt. Col. Jeffrey Brodeur, the battalion's commander, said in a statement.

McSwane said he got the feeling from the recruiters he talked to that they were desperately trying to sign him up by a certain date so that they could meet a monthly quota.




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