Friday, August 08, 2008

Go To Iraq Or Go To Jail

Here's a tawdry tale reflecting badly on America's "all-volunteer" military. Without a military draft recruiters are under a lot of pressure to meet recruitment goals and despite official policies to the contrary a growing number are resorting to methods way out of the box. KHOU in Houston has been tracking a trend.

... new figures 11 News obtained from the U.S. Army that track how recruiters have been doing since our story three years ago.

Turns out, instead of going down, allegations of wrongdoing are actually going up. In 2005, 836 complaints were filed against recruiters. That rose to 874 last year, and the Army is on pace to surpass that figure in 2008.

What’s more? The number of Army recruiters given formal admonishments has nearly doubled since our first report, with 373 citations in 2005 growing to 635 in 2007.

I have complained before about military recruitment of children so this story yesterday caught my attention.

Take your pick: prison or war.

That's what some army recruiters are telling high school students in Houston, Texas to scare teenagers into joining the army.

On July 29th, 2008, a local CBS affiliate in Houston broke this story about illegal army recruitment tactics and a shady new strategy called the "Delayed Entry Program." As part of a $5 billion recruitment budget for 2008--that's right, $5 billion—Army recruiters ask high school students to sign a non-binding contract that says they intend to enlist in the army upon graduation.

According to the Army's own policies for the new program, "under no circumstances will any [recruiter] threaten, coerce, manipulate, or intimidate future soldiers, nor may they obstruct separation requests... At no time will any [recruiter] tell a Delayed Entry Program member he or she must go in the Army or he or she will go to jail."

So when Eric Gonzalez and Eric Martinez, two high school friends in Texas who signed a Delayed Entry contract, were told they'd go to jail if they didn't join the Army, they realized something wasn't right. They came up with a plan to tape record the recruiter's illegal and dishonest claims, then leak it to the press.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now made this story the subject of yesterday's program.

A story involving an Army recruiter in Texas last week has led to a bipartisan call for an investigation. The recruiter from the Greenspoint Recruiting Station in Houston was suspended after a recording of his threats aired on a local TV station. The recruiter, Sgt. Glenn Marquette, warned eighteen-year-old Irving Gonzalez that he would be sent to jail if he decided to go to college instead of joining the military, even though Gonzalez had signed a non-binding contract that left him free to change his mind before basic training. We play the recording of their conversation, and we speak with two of the teenage Army recruits involved. We also question a spokesman for the US Military Recruiting Command and speak with a Texas Congressman who is calling for an investigation.

Audio stream and transcripts are available on line.

An online petition is collecting signatures urging Congress to investigate these abuses.
In the wake of documented proof of recruiters threatening high school students and forcing them into the military, we believe that the citizens of the United States must take action. Not Even One young person can be deceived by our government and forced into the military.

The petition is being sponsored by Not Even One. The website appears to be crippled, with outbound links getting error messages. I have no way to know what may be causing this, but this link is intact at the moment. Several "talking points" are spelled out advancing the argument:

1. The Army has been ignoring recommendations from the Government Accountability Office since 1998 and in the KHOU-11 coverage, Republican Congressman Ted Poe suggested that it may be time for a Congressional hearing and investigation into Military recruitment practices. I agree with Ted Poe's assessment and want Congress to act.

2. The No Child Left Behind Act grants recruiters unfettered access to high school students without any oversight. This unfettered access is a growing problem where school districts are giving unqualified adults (recruiters) authority over students in the schools. Congress, school districts and the military are failing to protect the kids from unscrupulous recruiters.

3. The story of Irving Gonzalez and Eric Martinez is not unique; formal admonishments of recruiters have doubled nationwide since 2005. This was after the Army agreed to fix the problem with a National Standown of recruiting offices and instead promoted a recruiter who threatened the young man in 2005. This shows that the Army actually encourages and rewards this behavior and cannot be trusted to fix it. Stories of recruiters across the country using the same tactics and talking points is evidence of a systemic problem, not one bad apple as the Army would have you believe.

4. We have no way to fully know how many men and women have joined the military under threat. This means we have no idea how many of these soliders have died, been injured or emotionally scarred in Afghanistan or Iraq when they had the right to walk away and recruiters denied them that right. How can we have a volunteer military if recruiters are violating their own rules and using fear, coercion and intimidation to force young men and women into the military?

Traffic to my blog is very small so the best I can hope to do is make this note of the story, hoping that the right person (or group) will find it. I would put together a longer post, but it takes too much time and energy and it would only make me more frustrated.

Motivated readers are urged to take action.

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