Army recruiters tell deadly lies

Soldiers are put at risk of dying in combat, but did not really volunteer for the job they are doing.

John Hoff

>Along a short stretch of Washington Avenue Southeast, you can join the army, the navy, and the Minnesota Army National Guard. It is amazing to walk into a recruiter’s office with thoughts of joining the military. It is like bravely stepping through a portal in time and space, not knowing where you might end up. The recruiters are near campus because we are their logical market, just as we are a target demographic for goods and services like affordably priced Chinese meals and free pregnancy tests.

I am regular, full-time army to my bones. Still, I will not speak ill of other military branches, or part-time “weekend warriors” who, quite often these days, are called up to become full-time soldiers. But, for me, there was never any real choice except being regular army like my father. Cut me open with a bayonet, in just the right spot over my gall bladder, and I will bleed green. During a time of war, serving in the military can lay a foundation for a life in politics, public service or even be the beginning of bohemian world adventures. If I would criticize the army, it would be out of love.

Having said all that, let’s discuss army recruiters and how they are the biggest, most dangerous liars on the face of the earth.

How unfortunate that the portal to such lofty public service is guarded by such accomplished liars. Some of the lies I witnessed in person, but others I heard about as part of my job. My specialty was army psych, which mostly involved caring for soldiers who tried to kill themselves. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a story about attempting suicide which, at some point, involved whopping lies from an army recruiter. If I had all those dollars in a big fat sack, I could put together an entire paycheck and don’t think I’m griping about the pay.

One of the most dangerous lies I call “the slot lie.” This is when a soldier is told the army specialty they want, like becoming a registered nurse, has a waiting list. However, if the recruit will sign up for something else, like being a truck driver, they can just transfer when the coveted slot opens up. At some point, the recruit will figure out they’ve been deceived and will either learn to live with the undesirable job they’ve been given, or they’ll have some kind of psychological or disciplinary problem.

I met a soldier who wanted to join an airborne division but ended up fixing mobile laundry facilities because of a lying recruiter. When classmates from home wrote letters saying taunting stuff like he was “a laundry commando,” the soldier tried to kill himself. Army psych wards are filled with stories like that.

There is not a doubt in my mind that, this very day and hour, soldiers are put at risk of dying in combat who did not, in the strictest sense, really volunteer for the job they are doing. And, to be fair, some of the worst lies are not told by recruiters, per se, but by personnel at Military Entry Processing Stations, known as MEPS.

Other outrageous whoppers involve benefits. The fact that the Montgomery GI Bill pays $36,000 for 36 months of education, and full-time soldiers pay in $100 a month for the first 12 months of active duty to receive MGIB can be easily proven. This situation has remained unchanged since 1985.

But will an army recruiter mention that minor fact about paying $1,200 in to get as much as $36,000 out? In my platoon at basic training, there were soldiers who were absolutely convinced they would pay nothing, and yet still receive MGIB. Buddies told them to expect a deduction, and yet these soldiers would not be swayed because their recruiter had told them differently. Their first pay statement revealed the truth, but many still insisted a mistake had been made and tried for weeks to “straighten it out” before the truth sunk in, like a bayonet.

Lies about MGIB deductions are not as substantial as “the army won’t deduct child support.”

They can and they will, even in Germany or South Korea. These minor lies about pay deductions wouldn’t be so bad if soldiers didn’t have to, for example, come up with funds to buy their own body armor.

I personally witnessed a soldier open a package from a recruiter who promised to mail him contraband Hershey bars at basic training. Instead of candy, the long-awaited package arrived containing chocolate-flavored laxatives and photos of two recruiters “flipping the bird.” Naturally, our drill sergeants confiscated the photos but kindly let the soldier keep the laxative.

This rather mild prank (by army standards) was not as bad as promising the soldier an opportunity to become a warrant officer and learn to fly helicopters, if only he would sign up as an enlisted army medic and wait for a slot to open.

I remember a lovely day at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, when that soldier reluctantly “fell in” to a platoon formation ready to march off and begin training as 91A medics, which was (in those days) the promise of a quick ticket to front-line duty.

Somebody said words to the effect of, “Warrant officer candidate, huh?,” and this soldier whirled around and spat in the general direction of the taunt Ö his spittle accidentally hitting a rather large, suddenly angry soldier from Dixieland. Fists flew.

Some army recruiter lies are so minor you have to wonder why they bother to be so deceptive. For example, while I was joining up, another recruit inquired whether some items would be provided in basic training free of charge, like shaving cream and shampoo. I personally saw a recruiter swear the items would be provided for free. He promised the items would come in cool containers of militant army green. This wasn’t true, of course. Soldiers must buy their own personal necessities, the same brands you use at home.

Why such a big lie over such a little thing? I saw the answer the night a young soldier boarded an army bus carrying a ratty old suitcase tied up with baling twine. And it wasn’t new baling twine, either, but dirty and full of knots.

If you are thinking about joining the army, (and there are many good reasons to do so) then you must navigate a dangerous minefield of lies. Before you crawl under barbed wire, before explosions are set off all around so you will learn to be brave and push forward, you must already face a scary obstacle course of deceptions routinely uttered by army recruiters.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]