June 30, 2005

Signing Your Life Away

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A young man in the Delayed Entry Program changed his mind about enlisting. The recruiter said to him that Sept. 11 changed everything –
“If you don’t report, that’s treason and you will be shot.”
I helped him to obtain a discharge.
-Bill Galvin, Counseling Coordinator, Center on Conscience and War

Like the military recruiter trying to get the youth to enlist in the military, George Bush invoked the September 11 terrorist attacks in his June 28 recruiting speech – six times. Bush ended his address with a recruiting pitch: “I thank those of you who have re-enlisted in an hour when your country needs you. And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.”

Although there is, and never has been, any evidence of a link between the Sept. 11 attacks and Saddam Hussein’s regime, Bush desperately uses the Sept. 11 tragedy to pump up support for his increasingly unpopular misadventure in Iraq.

“The president’s frequent references to the terrorist attack of September 11 show the weakness of his arguments,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said. “He is willing to exploit the sacred ground of 9/11, knowing that there is no connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq.”

Indeed, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis) said it’s because of the lessons of the Sept. 11 attacks that he opposes Bush’s approach to keeping the troops in Iraq without any timetable for withdrawal: “The US military presence in Iraq has become a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists, and Iraq is now the premier training ground and networking venue for the next generation of jihadists.”

Bush is in denial about the recruiting shortfall. In his speech, he intoned, “Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don’t you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.”

Maj. Chris Kennedy of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment indicates otherwise. “We have a finite number of troops,” he said. “But if you pull out of an area and don’t leave security forces in it, all you’re going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country.”

As American troops continue to die – more than 1,730 at latest count – in Bush’s war-that-never-had-to-be, recruiters are having an increasingly tough time getting kids to sign up. Although the Army met its monthly recruiting goal in June, it still faces a nearly insurmountable battle to meet its annual quota. The active-duty Army is still 7,800 recruits short of the 80,000 enlistees it seeks to send to boot camp, with only three months left in the recruiting year. This will be the first time since 1999 that the Army will have missed its annual enlistment quota.

The Army provides 105,000 of the 139,000 US troops currently in Iraq. Recruiters for the Marines, which supplies about 22,000 troops, report spending an average of 12 hours per recruit they enlist. This is 3 hours more than they spent only a year ago.

Over $3 billion a year is spent on recruitment, or about $14,000 per recruit. So frantic are recruiters to meet their goals, many have signed up people with serious mental diseases, and have ignored medical and police records of potential recruits.

“Recruiters must meet quotas,” says Kathleen Gilberd, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Project. “Those who fail to do so face transfer to much less desirable duties, like combat, as well as poor performance evaluations, which can affect promotion and careers. While recruiter fraud and misconduct have been around for years,” according to Gilberd, “the recruitment problems of the war in Iraq have resulted in more lies as well as more complaints about recruiter misconduct.”

The Army reserve has upped its eligible age limit to 39, and the Army is increasingly recruiting high school dropouts and kids with lower scores. Non-citizens are being targeted. The military is now offering expedited naturalization with relaxed requirements to those on active duty status on or since September 11, 2001.

Enlistees are given a date to report within 365 days of the day they sign up. This is called the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). If, for any reason, they change their mind within that time, they don’t have to go. A counselor with the San Diego Military Counseling Project told me that recruiters lie. They do underhanded things to circumvent the DEP. A recruiter might show up at the recruit’s job and tell his boss he isn’t patriotic and get the recruit fired. On the day before the recruit is due to report, the recruiter will tell him to come down to the office to complete some paperwork. The recruit will then be kept there overnight and sent directly to boot camp the next day. This is kidnapping.

A recruiter told the New York Times recently, “The problem is that no one wants to join. We have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by.”

The Pentagon has recently signed a contract with an outside marketing firm to compile an extensive database on 30 million 16- to 25-year-olds to help recruiters target potential enlistees. The data will contain detailed information about high school students ages 16 to 18, all college students, and Selective Service System registrants. Statistics collected include Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages and ethnicities of possible recruitment targets.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which Bush signed in 2002, aims to ensure that no child is left behind when the ships leave for Iraq. It allows the Pentagon to gather home addresses and telephone numbers of public-school students. Schools must provide military recruiters with this data or risk losing millions in federal education funding. The Pentagon’s new database, however, will include much more extensive information on these kids.

But the Act also contains an “opt out” clause which allows parents to sign a form preventing schools from providing information about their children to the military.

Some recruiters say the greatest single obstacle to military recruitment is parents. “The parents of the kids being sought by recruiters to fight this unpopular war,” wrote the New York Times’ Bob Herbert, “are creating a highly vocal and potentially very effective antiwar movement.” This is not surprising in light of the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed 60 percent of Americans think the Iraq war has become a quagmire. A Department of Defense survey last November found that only 25 percent of parents would recommend military service to their children, down from 42 percent the year before.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said of the recruiters, “They’re not going to all the schools. They’re going to the schools where they figure the kids will have less change to go to college. It’s an insidious kind of draft, quite frankly.” McDermott faults the military for enticing students with talk of patriotism, adventure and college funds, instead of giving them a realistic view of combat. He is among those in Congress trying to change the law so that students “opt-in” for recruitment, so the presumption would be against the schools providing the data to the Pentagon.

“There’s nothing dishonorable with serving in the military,” said McDermott, a psychiatrist who served stateside during the Vietnam War. “But it ought to be done with your eyes open.”

A woman named Kathie who posted on the Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) website tells of her 17-year-old son who joined the Marines through the DEP just after he finished his junior year in high school. But, “somehow, all the glossy brochures and videos about the Marines had failed to mention the dehumanization of military training and war,” his mother wrote. Her son has filed for conscientious objector status.

Charlie C. Carlson II, Command Sergeant-Major USA Ret., also posted on the MFSO website. He wrote: “My son recently returned from the Iraq War, his third war, and, being fed up with Bush lies and back-to-back-deployments, applied to be discharged from his ‘indefinite enlistment’ status. Six days later he was under investigation for making ‘disloyal comments’ about George Bush … which amounted to saying in general conversation with other soldiers that ‘Bush should never have started the war’ and ‘Bush is no military leader.'” Although “his 14 years of military service up to this point was flawless, he was an excellent soldier, … he was demoted and sentenced to 45 days of extra duty. His crime involved nothing more than expressing his personal political opinion as guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, the very document that he had risked his life defending.”

The Military Law Task Force’s GI Rights Hotline received 32,000 calls in 2004 from soldiers and sailors seeking information about conscientious objector claims, going AWOL, disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and general advice about alternatives to remaining in the military. Since the beginning of 2005, the Hotline has fielded about 3,000 calls per month. The GI Rights Hotline number is 1-800-394-9544.